Circumtropical distribution and cryptic species of the meiofaunal enteropneust Meioglossus (Harrimaniidae, Hemichordata)

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Hemichordata has always played a central role in evolutionary studies of Chordata due to their close phylogenetic affinity and shared morphological characteristics. Hemichordates had no meiofaunal representatives until the surprising discovery of a microscopic, paedomorphic enteropneust Meioglossus psammophilus (Harrimaniidae, Hemichordata) from the Caribbean in 2012. No additional species have been described since, questioning the broader distribution and significance of this genus. However, being less than a millimeter long and superficially resembling an early juvenile acorn worm, Meioglossus may easily be overlooked in both macrofauna and meiofauna surveys. We here present the discovery of 11 additional populations of Meioglossus from shallow subtropical and tropical coralline sands of the Caribbean Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and East China Sea. These geographically separated populations show identical morphology but differ genetically. Our phylogenetic reconstructions include four gene markers and support the monophyly of Meioglossus. Species delineation analyses revealed eight new cryptic species, which we herein describe using DNA taxonomy. This study reveals a broad circumtropical distribution, supporting the validity and ecological importance of this enigmatic meiobenthic genus. The high cryptic diversity and apparent morphological stasis of Meioglossus may exemplify a potentially common evolutionary ‘dead-end’ scenario, where groups with highly miniaturized and simplified body plan lose their ability to diversify morphologically.
TidsskriftScientific Reports
Udgave nummer1
Antal sider20
StatusUdgivet - 2024

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