Abstract

We present here the first report based on phylogenetic analyses of small subunit (SSU/18S) and large subunit (LSU/28S) ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences from a wider-than-token sample of rhynchonellide articulate brachiopods, with data from 11 of ∼20 extant genera (12 species) belonging to all four extant superfamilies. Data exploration by network and saturation analyses shows that the molecular sequence data are free from major aberrations and are suitable for phylogenetic reconstruction despite the presence of large deletions in four SSU rDNA sequences. Although molecular sequence analyses cannot directly illuminate the systematics of fossils, the independent, genealogical evidence and phylogenetic inferences about extant forms that they make possible are highly relevant to paleontological systematics because they highlight the limitations of evolutionary inference from morphology. Parsimony, distance, maximum likelihood (no clock) and Bayesian (relaxed-clock) analyses all find a tree topology that disagrees strongly with the existing superfamily classification. All tested phylogenetic reconstructions agree that the taxa analyzed fall into three clades designated A1, A2, and B that reflect two major divergence events. The relaxed-clock analysis indicates that clades A and B diverged in the Paleozoic, while clades A1 and A2 reflect Permo-Triassic (and later) events. Morphological homoplasy and possible gene co-option are suggested as the main sources for the discord between the morpho-classification, the results of cladistic analyses of morphology, and the relationships reconstructed from molecular sequences. The origin, function and evolutionary implications of the deletion-bearing rhynchonellide SSU rDNA sequences are briefly discussed in relation to pseudogenes and concerted evolution in the rDNA genomic region.

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