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The phylogenetic position and taxonomic status of Sterechinus bernasconiae Larrain, 1975 (Echinodermata, Echinoidea), an enigmatic Chilean sea urchin


Sterechinus is a very common echinoid genus in benthic communities of the Southern Ocean. It is widely distributed across the Antarctic and South Atlantic Oceans and has been the most frequently collected and intensively studied Antarctic echinoid. Despite the abundant literature devoted to Sterechinus, few studies have questioned the systematics of the genus. Sterechinus bernasconiae is the only species of Sterechinus reported from the Pacific Ocean and is only known from the few specimens of the original material. Based on new material collected during the oceanographic cruise INSPIRE on board the R/V Melville, the taxonomy and phylogenetic position of the species are revised. Molecular and morphological analyses show that S. bernasconiae is a subjective junior synonym of Gracilechinus multidentatus (Clark). Results also show the existence of two genetically distinct subclades within the so-called Sterechinus clade: a Sterechinus neumayeri subclade and a subclade composed of other Sterechinus species. The three nominal species Sterechinus antarcticus, Sterechinus diadema, and Sterechinus agassizi cluster together and cannot be distinguished. The species Sterechinus dentifer is weakly differentiated from these three nominal species. The elucidation of phylogenetic relationships between G. multidentatus and species of Sterechinus also allows for clarification of respective biogeographic distributions and emphasizes the putative role played by biotic exclusion in the spatial distribution of species.

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Samples were collected during oceanographic campaigns through IPEV (formerly IFRTP) programmes No. 195 BENTHOS-MAC, No. 345 BENTHADEL, and No. 1044 PROTEKER; Chilean programmes INACH 13-05, INACH 02-02, INACH B01-07, ECOS C06B02, and INIDEP 1608; and oceanographic cruises INSPIRE, Antarktis XXIII/8, CEAMARC, CHESSO, BIOPEARL I, and Bentart’06. The authors are indebted to the staff of the Marine Research Station of Las Cruces (Chile), CBUCN (Biological Collection of Universidad Católica del Norte, Coquimbo, Chile), ZMUC (Concepción, Chile), NIWA (Wellington, New Zealand), BAS (Cambridge, UK), and AWI (Bremerhaven, Germany). This study was supported by the European Community through an ASSEMBLE Grant (Grant No. 22779). This is Contribution No. 4 to the vERSO project (, funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO, Contract No. BR/132/A1/vERSO). This is a contribution to team BioME of the CNRS laboratory Biogéosciences (UMR 6282).

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Correspondence to Thomas Saucède.

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Saucède, T., Díaz, A., Pierrat, B. et al. The phylogenetic position and taxonomic status of Sterechinus bernasconiae Larrain, 1975 (Echinodermata, Echinoidea), an enigmatic Chilean sea urchin. Polar Biol 38, 1223–1237 (2015).

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  • Sterechinus bernasconiae
  • Gracilechinus multidentatus
  • Echinoidea
  • Antarctic
  • Phylogeny
  • Biogeography