The interrelationships of the gastrotricha using nuclear small rRNA subunit sequence data, with an interpretation based on morphology

M. Antonio Todaro, D. Timothy J Littlewood, Maria Balsamo, Elisabeth A. Herniou, Stefano Cassanelli, Giancarlo Manicardi, Annarita Wirz, Paolo Tongiorgi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gastrotrichs are meiobenthic invertebrates of obscure origin and unclear phylogenetic alliances. Uncertainties also plague the intra-group relationship with major contrasts between the evolutionary scenarios inferred from morphology or molecules. In this study we analysed partial sequences of the 18S rDNA gene of 18 taxa (14 new and 4 published) to test morphological estimates of gastrotrich phylogeny and to verify whether controversial interrelationships from previous molecular data are due to poor sampling. Data were analysed using both maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood. MP topology was then forced to reflect published morphological estimates and the most parsimonious solutions from each constraint analysis was statistically compared against the unconstrained solution. MP analysis yielded a single tree with few nodes well supported by bootstrap resampling. These included the monophyly of the Chaetonotidae and the internal relationships of the members of this family, with Aspidiophorus appearing as the most basal member. The monophyly of the Turbanellidae was also well supported with some suggestion that its sister group might be Mesodasys. Lepidodasyidae was found to be an unnatural taxon with Lepidodasys forming a separated clade but unrelated also to the Thaumastodermatidae. With the exception of genera Lepidodasys and Neodasys, the Macrodasyida appeared to be resolved separately from the Chaetonotida, and Dactylopodola was resolved as the most basal macrodasyid. ML analysis yielded a tree not too dissimilar from MP, although Dactylopodola and Xenodasys were resolved as a clade. Statistics indicate that the output from our MP analysis is compatible with the classical view placing representatives of the two orders within two distinct evolutionary lines. Most of the constrained solutions, except the shortest, corroborate the monophyly of the two orders, whereas all five constrained solutions support also the notion that sees Neodasys as an early divergent clade along the Chaetonotida branch. Thus, results are generally compatible with the hypothesised evolutionary scenario based on morphological data, but are in contrast with previous findings from molecules. Future research should consider using the complete SSU rDNA gene sequence in their analysis and additional genes for deeper resolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-156
Number of pages12
JournalZoologischer Anzeiger
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • 18S rDNA gene
  • Lower Metazoa
  • Meiofauna
  • Molecular phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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