The zoanthid genus Sphenopus (Cnidaria: Anthozoa: Zoantharia), like many other brachycnemic zoanthids, is found in shallow subtropical and tropical waters, but is uniquely unitary (solitary, monostomatous), azooxanthellate, and free-living. With sparse knowledge of its phylogenetic position, this study examines the phylogenetic position of Sphenopus within the family Sphenopidae utilizing specimens from southern Taiwan and Brunei collected in 1999-2011, and furthermore analyzes the evolution of its unique character set via ancestral state reconstruction analyses. Phylogenetic analyses surprisingly show Sphenopus to be phylogenetically positioned within the genus Palythoa, which is colonial (polystomatous), zooxanthellate, and attached to solid substrate. Ancestral state reconstruction strongly indicates that the unique characters of Sphenopus have evolved recently within Palythoa and only in the Sphenopus lineage. These results indicate that zoanthid body plans can evolve with rapidity, as in some other marine invertebrates, and that the traditional definitions of zoanthid genera may need reexamination.
National Museum of Natural History, Netherlands
Article / Letter to the editor