Morphological and molecular evolution of sea anemones as revealed by an emerging model organism, Aiptasia (Cnidaria, Actiniaria, Aiptasiidae)

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Sea anemones (Cnidaria: Actiniaria) of the family Aiptasiidae Carlgren, 1924 are conspicuous members of shallow-water environments and several species within the family are widely used as model systems for studies of cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis and coral bleaching. Although previously published phylogenetic studies of sea anemones recovered the family Aiptasiidae as monophyletic, they only included partial sampling of its diversity. This study explores the diversity within this group of organisms in an integrative way, from the family to population levels. In this study, I explored the morphological and molecular diversity of the group using newly collected material covering the distribution of most of the described genera and species. The family Aiptasiidae was found to be a monophyletic lineage. Similarly, most of the genera within the family represent monophyletic lineages, with the exception of the genus Aiptasia, now divided into Aiptasia and Exaiptasia. Bellactis Dube, 1983 and Ragactis Andres, 1883 are now genera included within Aiptasiidae, in agreement with previous morphological studies and the morphological homogeneity observed here by the members of this family. In addition, I discovered new diagnostic morphological characters supporting the relationships among the major clades within the family. The molecular phylogenetic results provided evidence to diagnose two species within Exaiptasia: E. pallida -- a single widespread species -- and a new cryptic species, E. brasilensis sp. nov. -- restricted geographically to the southwestern Caribbean Sea and the southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Finally, although the algal diversity within the group showed no evidence of coevolution at the family level, an interesting pattern of adaptation and cladogenesis of the endosymbiotic algae (Symbiodinium spp.) was found within host species.
ix, 201 pages : illustrations (chiefly color)
Aiptasia., Exaiptasia pallida., Exaiptasia brasilensis., Sea anemones., Morphology -- Variation.