The Francis Crick Institute
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The cosmopolitan appendicularian Oikopleura dioica reveals hidden genetic diversity around the globe

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-12-07, 10:24 authored by A Masunaga, MJ Mansfield, Y Tan, AW Liu, A Bliznina, P Barzaghi, TL Hodgetts, A Ferrández-Roldán, C Cañestro, TA Onuma, C Plessy, NM Luscombe
Appendicularian tunicates are some of the most abundant mesozooplankton organisms with key roles in marine trophic webs and global carbon flux. Like most appendicularians with cosmopolitan distributions, Oikopleura dioica Fol, 1872 is considered a single species worldwide based on morphological features that distinguish them from other appendicularians. Despite their abundance, however, there are still only ~ 70 described appendicularian species, compared to over 2800 ascidian tunicates. Here we perform a molecular phylogenetic, morphological, and reproductive assessment of O. dioica specimens collected from the Ryukyu Archipelago, mainland Japan, and Europe. The specimens are morphologically very similar, with only detailed examination of the oikoplastic epithelium and quantitative measurements revealing minor distinguishing characteristics. Phylogenetic analyses of the ribosomal gene loci and mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene strongly indicate that they form three separate genetic clades despite their morphological similarities. Finally, in vitro crosses between the Ryukyu and mainland Japanese specimens show total prezygotic reproductive isolation. Our results reveal that the current taxonomic O. dioica classification likely hides multiple cryptic species, highlighting the genetic diversity and complexity of their population structures. Cryptic organisms are often hidden under a single species name because their morphological similarities make them difficult to distinguish and their correct identification is fundamental to understanding Earth’s biodiversity. O. dioica is an attractive model to understand how morphological conservation can be maintained despite pronounced genetic divergence.


Crick (Grant ID: 10110, Grant title: Luscombe FC001110)