, Volume 125, Issue 4, pp 735-742

Are meiofaunal species cosmopolitan? Morphological and molecular analysis of Xenotrichula intermedia (Gastrotricha: Chaetonotida)

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Many meiofaunal species are reported to be cosmopolitan, but due to uncertainties of identification, the affiliation of specimens from geographically distant areas to the same species-taxon is problematic. In this study, we examined morphological and molecular variation in samples of Xenotrichula intermedia Remane (Gastrotricha: Chaetonotida) from the Mediterranean Sea, the northwestern Atlantic and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Univariate analysis of 16 morphological traits was unable to detect differences among populations, except for the length of the pharynx, which was significantly shorter in the Gulf of Mexico specimens. Canonical discriminant analysis separated the Gulf of Mexico specimens from the other two populations, with pharynx length contributing about half of the total discrimination. Molecular analysis based on restriction-fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) in a 710-base pair polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) produet representing roughly half of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene detected four haplotypes: one each from the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Mexico populations and two coexisting within the Atlantic population. The estimated nucleotide-sequence divergence calculated for each pairwise combination of haplotypes (based on the proportion of shared fragments) ranged from 5.3 to 11.5%. The high genetic divergence and the inability to clearly separate populations based on morphology suggest that individuals characterized by different haplotypes are genetically isolated sibling species.