We use full mitochondrial genomes to test the robustness of the phylogeny of the Octocorallia, to determine the evolutionary pathway for the five known mitochondrial gene rearrangements in octocorals, and to test the suitability of using mitochondrial genomes for higher taxonomic-level phylogenetic reconstructions. Our phylogeny supports three major divisions within the Octocorallia and show that Paragorgiidae is paraphyletic, with Sibogagorgia forming a sister branch to the Coralliidae. Furthermore, Sibogagorgia cauliflora has what is presumed to be the ancestral gene order in octocorals, but the presence of a pair of inverted repeat sequences suggest that this gene order was not conserved but rather evolved back to this apparent ancestral state. Based on this we recommend the resurrection of the family Sibogagorgiidae to fix the paraphyly of the Paragorgiidae.
This is the first study to show that in the Octocorallia, mitochondrial gene orders have evolved back to an ancestral state after going through a gene rearrangement, with at least one of the gene orders evolving independently in different lineages. A number of studies have used gene boundaries to determine the type of mitochondrial gene arrangement present. However, our findings suggest that this method known as gene junction screening may miss evolutionary reversals.
Additionally, substitution saturation analysis demonstrates that while whole mitochondrial genomes can be used effectively for phylogenetic analyses within Octocorallia, their utility at higher taxonomic levels within Cnidaria is inadequate. Therefore for phylogenetic reconstruction at taxonomic levels higher than subclass within the Cnidaria, nuclear genes will be required, even when whole mitochondrial genomes are available.
Figueroa, D. F., & Baco, A. R. (2014). Octocoral mitochondrial genomes provide insights into the phylogenetic history of gene order rearrangements, order reversals, and cnidarian phylogenetics. Genome biology and evolution, 7(1), 391–409. https://doi.org/10.1093/gbe/evu286
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Genome Biol. Evol.