Phylogenomic resolution of sea spider diversification through integration of multiple data classes

Jesús A. Ballesteros, Emily V.W. Setton, Carlos E. Santibáñez-López, Claudia P. Arango, Georg Brenneis, Saskia Brix, Kevin F. Corbett, Esperanza Cano-Sánchez, Merai Dandouch, Geoffrey F. Dilly, Marc P. Eleaume, Guilherme Gainett, Cyril Gallut, Sean McAtee, Lauren McIntyre, Amy L. Moran, Randy Moran, Pablo J. López-González, Gerhard Scholtz, Clay WilliamsonH. Arthur Woods, Jakob T. Zehms, Ward C. Wheeler, Prashant P. Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Despite significant advances in invertebrate phylogenomics over the past decade, the higher-level phylogeny of Pycnogonida (sea spiders) remains elusive. Due to the inaccessibility of some small-bodied lineages, few phylogenetic studies have sampled all sea spider families. Previous efforts based on a handful of genes have yielded unstable tree topologies. Here, we inferred the relationships of 89 sea spider species using targeted capture of the mitochondrial genome, 56 conserved exons, 101 ultraconserved elements, and 3 nuclear ribosomal genes. We inferred molecular divergence times by integrating morphological data for fossil species to calibrate 15 nodes in the arthropod tree of life. This integration of data classes resolved the basal topology of sea spiders with high support. The enigmatic family Austrodecidae was resolved as the sister group to the remaining Pycnogonida and the small-bodied family Rhynchothoracidae as the sister group of the robust-bodied family Pycnogonidae. Molecular divergence time estimation recovered a basal divergence of crown group sea spiders in the Ordovician. Comparison of diversification dynamics with other marine invertebrate taxa that originated in the Paleozoic suggests that sea spiders and some crustacean groups exhibit resilience to mass extinction episodes, relative to mollusk and echinoderm lineages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-701
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021


  • Arthropods
  • Diversification
  • Mitogenome
  • Pycnogonida
  • Ultraconserved


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