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      Cnidarian phylogenetic relationships as revealed by mitogenomics

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          Cnidaria (corals, sea anemones, hydroids, jellyfish) is a phylum of relatively simple aquatic animals characterized by the presence of the cnidocyst: a cell containing a giant capsular organelle with an eversible tubule (cnida). Species within Cnidaria have life cycles that involve one or both of the two distinct body forms, a typically benthic polyp, which may or may not be colonial, and a typically pelagic mostly solitary medusa. The currently accepted taxonomic scheme subdivides Cnidaria into two main assemblages: Anthozoa (Hexacorallia + Octocorallia) – cnidarians with a reproductive polyp and the absence of a medusa stage – and Medusozoa (Cubozoa, Hydrozoa, Scyphozoa, Staurozoa) – cnidarians that usually possess a reproductive medusa stage. Hypothesized relationships among these taxa greatly impact interpretations of cnidarian character evolution.


          We expanded the sampling of cnidarian mitochondrial genomes, particularly from Medusozoa, to reevaluate phylogenetic relationships within Cnidaria. Our phylogenetic analyses based on a mitochogenomic dataset support many prior hypotheses, including monophyly of Hexacorallia, Octocorallia, Medusozoa, Cubozoa, Staurozoa, Hydrozoa, Carybdeida, Chirodropida, and Hydroidolina, but reject the monophyly of Anthozoa, indicating that the Octocorallia + Medusozoa relationship is not the result of sampling bias, as proposed earlier. Further, our analyses contradict Scyphozoa [Discomedusae + Coronatae], Acraspeda [Cubozoa + Scyphozoa], as well as the hypothesis that Staurozoa is the sister group to all the other medusozoans.


          Cnidarian mitochondrial genomic data contain phylogenetic signal informative for understanding the evolutionary history of this phylum. Mitogenome-based phylogenies, which reject the monophyly of Anthozoa, provide further evidence for the polyp-first hypothesis. By rejecting the traditional Acraspeda and Scyphozoa hypotheses, these analyses suggest that the shared morphological characters in these groups are plesiomorphies, originated in the branch leading to Medusozoa. The expansion of mitogenomic data along with improvements in phylogenetic inference methods and use of additional nuclear markers will further enhance our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships and character evolution within Cnidaria.

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          Most cited references 88

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          RAxML-VI-HPC: maximum likelihood-based phylogenetic analyses with thousands of taxa and mixed models.

          RAxML-VI-HPC (randomized axelerated maximum likelihood for high performance computing) is a sequential and parallel program for inference of large phylogenies with maximum likelihood (ML). Low-level technical optimizations, a modification of the search algorithm, and the use of the GTR+CAT approximation as replacement for GTR+Gamma yield a program that is between 2.7 and 52 times faster than the previous version of RAxML. A large-scale performance comparison with GARLI, PHYML, IQPNNI and MrBayes on real data containing 1000 up to 6722 taxa shows that RAxML requires at least 5.6 times less main memory and yields better trees in similar times than the best competing program (GARLI) on datasets up to 2500 taxa. On datasets > or =4000 taxa it also runs 2-3 times faster than GARLI. RAxML has been parallelized with MPI to conduct parallel multiple bootstraps and inferences on distinct starting trees. The program has been used to compute ML trees on two of the largest alignments to date containing 25,057 (1463 bp) and 2182 (51,089 bp) taxa, respectively.
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            MrBayes 3.2: Efficient Bayesian Phylogenetic Inference and Model Choice Across a Large Model Space

            Since its introduction in 2001, MrBayes has grown in popularity as a software package for Bayesian phylogenetic inference using Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods. With this note, we announce the release of version 3.2, a major upgrade to the latest official release presented in 2003. The new version provides convergence diagnostics and allows multiple analyses to be run in parallel with convergence progress monitored on the fly. The introduction of new proposals and automatic optimization of tuning parameters has improved convergence for many problems. The new version also sports significantly faster likelihood calculations through streaming single-instruction-multiple-data extensions (SSE) and support of the BEAGLE library, allowing likelihood calculations to be delegated to graphics processing units (GPUs) on compatible hardware. Speedup factors range from around 2 with SSE code to more than 50 with BEAGLE for codon problems. Checkpointing across all models allows long runs to be completed even when an analysis is prematurely terminated. New models include relaxed clocks, dating, model averaging across time-reversible substitution models, and support for hard, negative, and partial (backbone) tree constraints. Inference of species trees from gene trees is supported by full incorporation of the Bayesian estimation of species trees (BEST) algorithms. Marginal model likelihoods for Bayes factor tests can be estimated accurately across the entire model space using the stepping stone method. The new version provides more output options than previously, including samples of ancestral states, site rates, site d N /d S rations, branch rates, and node dates. A wide range of statistics on tree parameters can also be output for visualization in FigTree and compatible software.
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              jModelTest: phylogenetic model averaging.

              jModelTest is a new program for the statistical selection of models of nucleotide substitution based on "Phyml" (Guindon and Gascuel 2003. A simple, fast, and accurate algorithm to estimate large phylogenies by maximum likelihood. Syst Biol. 52:696-704.). It implements 5 different selection strategies, including "hierarchical and dynamical likelihood ratio tests," the "Akaike information criterion," the "Bayesian information criterion," and a "decision-theoretic performance-based" approach. This program also calculates the relative importance and model-averaged estimates of substitution parameters, including a model-averaged estimate of the phylogeny. jModelTest is written in Java and runs under Mac OSX, Windows, and Unix systems with a Java Runtime Environment installed. The program, including documentation, can be freely downloaded from the software section at

                Author and article information

                BMC Evol Biol
                BMC Evol. Biol
                BMC Evolutionary Biology
                BioMed Central
                9 January 2013
                : 13
                : 5
                [1 ]Dept. Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, 50011, Ames, Iowa, USA
                [2 ]Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 20013-7012, Washington, DC, USA
                [3 ]Dept. Biochimie, Fac. Médecine, Université de Montral, Pavillon Roger-Gaudry, C.P. 6128, Succ. Centre-Ville, H3C 3J7, Montral, QC, Canada
                [4 ]National Systematics Laboratory of NOAA’s Fisheries Service, National Museum of Natural History, MRC-153, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, 20013-7012, Washington, DC, USA
                Copyright ©2013 Kayal et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Research Article

                Evolutionary Biology

                mito-phylogenomics, acraspeda, anthozoa, cnidaria, medusozoa


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