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Variability on microevolutionary and macroevolutionary scales: a review on patterns of morphological variation in Cnidaria Medusozoa

Abstract

Members of Cnidaria Medusozoa are known for their wide morphological variation, which is expressed on many different levels, especially in different phases of the life cycle. Difficulties in interpreting morphological variations have posed many taxonomic problems, since intraspecific morphological variations are often misinterpreted as interspecific variations and vice-versa, hampering species delimitation. This study reviews the patterns of morphological variation in the Medusozoa, to evaluate how different interpretations of the levels of variation may influence the understanding of the patterns of diversification in the group. Additionally, we provide an estimate of the cryptic diversity in the Hydrozoa, based on COI sequences deposited in GenBank. Morphological variations frequently overlap between microevolutionary and macroevolutionary scales, contributing to misinterpretations of the different levels of variation. In addition, most of the cryptic diversity described so far for the Medusozoa is a result of previously overlooked morphological differences, and there is still great potential for discovering cryptic lineages in the Hydrozoa. We provide evidence that the number of species in the Medusozoa is misestimated and emphasize the necessity of examining different levels of morphological variations when studying species boundaries, in order to avoid generalizations and misinterpretations of morphological characters.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank all their colleagues from Laboratory of Marine Evolution (LEM) and Laboratory of Molecular Evolution (LEMol) of the University of São Paulo, Brazil, for their valuable help and support during the course of this study. We are also very grateful to P.K. Maruyama and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on previous versions of this manuscript. This study was supported by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) (AFC, ACM), Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) (grant no. 490348/2006-8, 562143/2010-6, 563106/2010-7, 477156/2011-8, 305805/2013-4, 445444/2014-2—ACM) and São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) (grant no. 2006/56211-6—MMM, 2010/52324-6, 2011/50242-5, 2013/50484-4—ACM, 2011/22260-9, 2013/25874-3—AFC).

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Cunha, A.F., Maronna, M.M. & Marques, A.C. Variability on microevolutionary and macroevolutionary scales: a review on patterns of morphological variation in Cnidaria Medusozoa. Org Divers Evol 16, 431–442 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13127-016-0276-4

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Keywords

  • Cryptic species
  • Morphological characters
  • Ontogeny
  • Plasticity
  • Polymorphism
  • Species boundaries