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Poliseno, Angelo (2016): Speciation, evolution and phylogeny of some shallow-water octocorals (Cnidaria: Anthozoa). Dissertation, LMU München: Fakultät für Geowissenschaften



Shallow-water octocorals are among the most abundant macro-benthic organisms inhabiting tropical subtropical and temperate communities. In spite of being worldwide distributed and highly diverse, the systematics of many octocorals remains controversial and the understanding of the processes who led to their diversification is largely unexplored. This study includes five chapters, each dealing with different aspects of the systematics, phylogeny and evolution of six soft coral genera such as Lobophytum, Sarcophyton, Paramuricea, Leptogorgia, Muricea and Pacifigorgia. One of the main goals of the study was to explore, through the use of molecular methods, the genetic variation within species notoriously difficult to identify. Besides the use of standard molecular methods for phylogenetic reconstruction and species delimitation, the effectiveness of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies was tested for mitogenomic and genotyping analyses. In the first chapter the use of single-locus markers (e.g. COI, mtMutS and 28S rDNA) was investigated and different automated species delimitation methods (e.g. ABGD, bPTP) were employed to assess species richness among soft coral genera from Western Australia. The methods used appeared suitable for preliminary and rapid diversity assessments especially in the presence of species-rich genera such as Lobophytum and Sarcophyton where morphological identification is particularly difficult and time consuming. In the second chapter, along with the sequencing of complete mitogenomes of Mediterranean Paramuricea species (P. clavata and P. macrospina), the biogeography of the genus was investigated. The results revealed nucleotide and genome size polymorphisms, while the biogeographic predictions suggested that the Mediterranean species have resulted from independent speciation events, explaining in part the high phylogenetic divergence detected. In the third chapter, the sequencing of complete mitogenomes of five Leptogorgia species from different geographic areas (eastern Pacific, eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean) was followed by phylogenetic reconstructions based on an extended mtMutS dataset. The phylogenetic tree recovered Leptogorgia polyphyletic with a clear segregation between the eastern Pacific and eastern Atlantic forms. A time calibrated phylogeny provided insights into the evolution of the genus. In chapter four, using NGS approaches, the complete mitochondrial genome of two eastern Pacific Muricea species (M. crassa and M. purpurea) has been sequenced. The recovery of complete mitogenomes allowed to evaluate the presence of variable and informative regions and to infer a more robust phylogeny. Overall, the results showed high nucleotide diversity in the intergenic spacers, making these regions new potential molecular markers for species-level identifications. In the last chapter a genome-wide Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) and a Bayes Factor Delimitation method were used to infer the genetic relationships within species of the genus Pacifigorgia. The data obtained showed incongruence between molecular and morphological investigations suggesting the possibility of alternative taxonomic assignments for these species. This study provides information on the evolution and speciation of ecologically important soft corals, which distribution range from the littoral and sublittoral zones of the Mediterranean to the tropical and subtropical reefs of Western Australia (WA) and eastern Pacific (EP). The use of mitochondrial markers such as MutS allowed to shed some light on the biogeography and evolutionary history of widespread gorgonians with special emphasis on the Mediterranean endemics and the Atlantic species. Concerning the Western Australia, the obtained results will support the management and conservation of under-investigated marine biodiversity hotspots and potentially species-rich localities such as the Kimberley. In terms of species delimitation, the application of genome-wide SNPs and the use of NGS technologies showed a higher resolution when compared with the traditional methods based on DNA barcoding and single-locus phylogenies. The data generated have been used to clarify the systematics of the species investigated and will be considered as a baseline for future studies on population genetics with a closer look on the adaptive processes.