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Keywords:

  • Cnidaria;
  • complex characters;
  • Dollo's Law;
  • heterochrony;
  • Hydractinia;
  • hydractiniidae;
  • hydrozoa;
  • medusa;
  • life cycle

Biased transitions are common throughout the tree of life. The class hydrozoa is no exception, having lost the feeding medusa stage at least 70 times. The family hydractiniidae includes one lineage with pelagic medusae (Podocoryna) and several without (e.g., Hydractinia). The benthic colony stage also varies widely in host specificity and in colony form. The five-gene phylogeny presented here requires multiple transitions between character states for medusae, host specificity, and colony phenotype. Significant phylogenetic correlations exist between medusoid form, colony morphology, and host specificity. Species with nonfeeding medusae are usually specialized on a single host type, and reticulate colonies are correlated with nonmotile hosts. The history of feeding medusae is less certain. Podocoryna is nested within five lineages lacking medusae. This requires either repeated losses of medusae, or the remarkable re-evolution of a feeding medusa after at least 150 million years. Traditional ancestral reconstruction favors medusa regain, but a likelihood framework testing biased transitions cannot distinguish between multiple losses versus regain. A hypothesis of multiple losses of feeding medusae requires transient selection pressure favoring such a loss. Populations of species with feeding medusae are always locally rare and lack of feeding medusae does not result in restricted species distribution around the world.