Morphology and systematics in mesopsammic nemerteans of the genus Ototyphlonemertes (Nemertea, Hoplonemertea, Ototyphlonemertidae)
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Interstitial nemerteans of the genus Ototyphlonemertes are difficult to organize into traditional morphospecies. They occur in a multitude of slightly different local varieties that form a seemingly continuous morphological cline. In this paper, we summarize most published morphological data on the group, plus 73 new records of geographic varieties from the Mediterranean Sea in the East to the Sea of Japan in the West. We summarize morphological variation, partition traits into character and character states, propose a standardized protocol for examination of live specimens and discuss the phylogenetic structure of the group. The phylogenetic discussion leads to a hypothesis that partitions all varieties (including the established species) into six groups. These are the smallest morphologically homogenous sets of varieties (corresponding to traditional morphospecies) we can diagnose on phylogenetically reliable traits. Variation within the groups appears to be unreliable phylogenetic markers that may distinguish ecological forms rather than relatedness. However, we distinguish four of the groups by combinations of two traits, one apomorphy for a more inclusive group and one plesiomorphy, and the remaining two by one trait each that may be either a unique plesiomorphy or an apomorphy depending on the rooting, and most of them may thus join paraphyletic groups of cryptic monophyletic units. We call this kind of group phylomorph and name them the Duplex-, Pallida-, Cirrula-, Fila-, Lactea- and Macintoshi-morph (referring to the first established species within each group, i.e. Ototyphlonemertes duplex, O. pallida, O. cirrula, O. fila, O. lactea and O. macintoshi respectively). The phylogenetic scheme provides a simple tool to allocate geographical varieties to a group of possible `species' and a phylogenetic null-hypothesis for further tests with genetic data.
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