Phylogenetic relationships within Gastrotricha are poorly known. Attempts to shed light on this subject using morphological traits have led to hypotheses lacking satisfactory statistical support; it seemed therefore that a different approach was needed.
In this paper we attempt to elucidate the relationships within the taxonomically vast family Thaumastodermatidae (Macrodasyida) using molecular sequence data. The study includes representatives of all the extant genera of the family and for the first time uses a multi-gene approach to infer evolutionary liaisons within Gastrotricha. The final data set comprises sequences of three genes (18S, 28S rDNA and COI mtDNA) from 41 species, including 29 thaumastodermatids, 11 non-thaumastodermatid macrodasyidans and a single chaetonotidan. Molecular data was analyzed as a combined set of 3 genes and as individual genes, using Bayesian and maximum likelihood approaches. Two different outgroups were used: Xenotrichula intermedia (Chaetonotida) and members of the putative basal Dactylopodola (Macrodasyida). Thaumastodermatidae and all other sampled macrodasyidan families were found monophyletic except for Cephalodasyidae. Within Thaumastodermatidae Diplodasyinae and Thaumastodermatinae are monophyletic and so are most genera. Oregodasys turns out to be the most basal group within Thaumastodermatinae in analyses of the concatenated data set as well as in analyses of the nuclear genes. Thaumastoderma appears as the sister taxon to the remaining species. Surprisingly, Tetranchyroderma is non-monophyletic in our analyses as one group of species clusters with Ptychostomella while another appears as the sister group of Pseudostomella.
Results in general agree with the current classification; however, a revision of the more derived thaumastodermatid taxa seems necessary. We also found that the ostensible COI sequences from several species do not conform to the general invertebrate or any other published mitochondrial genetic code; they may be mitochondrially derived nuclear genes (numts), or one or more modifications of the mitochondrial genetic code within Gastrotricha.
2011. Vol. 6, no 3, e17892- p.