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Concept: Phylum


Spiders are an important animal group, with a long history. Details of their origins remain limited, with little knowledge of their stem group, and no insights into the sequence of character acquisition during spider evolution. We describe a new fossil arachnid,Idmonarachne brasierigen. et sp. nov. from the Late Carboniferous (Stephanian,ca305-299 Ma) of Montceau-les-Mines, France. It is three-dimensionally preserved within a siderite concretion, allowing both laboratory- and synchrotron-based phase-contrast computed tomography reconstruction. The latter is a first for siderite-hosted fossils and has allowed us to investigate fine anatomical details. Although distinctly spider-like in habitus, this remarkable fossil lacks a key diagnostic character of Araneae: spinnerets on the underside of the opisthosoma. It also lacks a flagelliform telson found in the recently recognized, spider-related, Devonian-Permian Uraraneida. Cladistic analysis resolves our new fossil as sister group to the spiders: the spider stem-group comprises the uraraneids andI. brasieri While we are unable to demonstrate the presence of spigots in this fossil, the recovered phylogeny suggests the earliest character to evolve on the spider stem-group is the secretion of silk. This would have been followed by the loss of a flagelliform telson, and then the ability to spin silk using spinnerets. This last innovation defines the true spiders, significantly post-dates the origins of silk, and may be a key to the group’s success. The Montceau-les-Mines locality has previously yielded a mesothele spider (with spinnerets). Evidently, Late Palaeozoic spiders lived alongside Palaeozoic arachnid grades which approached the spider condition, but did not express the full suite of crown-group autapomorphies.

Concepts: Arthropod, Phylogenetics, Clade, Phylum, Arachnid, Spider, Chelicerata, Tarantula


The relationships at the root of the animal tree have proven difficult to resolve, with the current debate focusing on whether sponges (phylum Porifera) or comb jellies (phylum Ctenophora) are the sister group of all other animals [1-5]. The choice of evolutionary models seems to be at the core of the problem because Porifera tends to emerge as the sister group of all other animals (“Porifera-sister”) when site-specific amino acid differences are modeled (e.g., [6, 7]), whereas Ctenophora emerges as the sister group of all other animals (“Ctenophora-sister”) when they are ignored (e.g., [8-11]). We show that two key phylogenomic datasets that previously supported Ctenophora-sister [10, 12] display strong heterogeneity in amino acid composition across sites and taxa and that no routinely used evolutionary model can adequately describe both forms of heterogeneity. We show that data-recoding methods [13-15] reduce compositional heterogeneity in these datasets and that models accommodating site-specific amino acid preferences can better describe the recoded datasets. Increased model adequacy is associated with significant topological changes in support of Porifera-sister. Because adequate modeling of the evolutionary process that generated the data is fundamental to recovering an accurate phylogeny [16-20], our results strongly support sponges as the sister group of all other animals and provide further evidence that Ctenophora-sister represents a tree reconstruction artifact.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Animal, Cladistics, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge, Bryozoa


The germline definition in metazoans was first based on few bilaterian models. As a result, gene function interpretations were often based on phenotypes observed in those models and led to the definition of a set of genes, considered as specific of the germline, named the “germline core”. However, some of these genes were shown to also be involved in somatic stem cells, thus leading to the notion of germline multipotency program (GMP). Because Porifera and Ctenophora are currently the best candidates to be the sister-group to all other animals, the comparative analysis of gene contents and functions between these phyla, Cnidaria and Bilateria is expected to provide clues on early animal evolution and on the links between somatic and germ lineages. Our present bioinformatic analyses at the metazoan scale show that a set of 18 GMP genes was already present in the last common ancestor of metazoans and indicate more precisely the evolution of some of them in the animal lineage. The expression patterns and levels of 11 of these genes in the homoscleromorph sponge Oscarella lobularis show that they are expressed throughout their life cycle, in pluri/multipotent progenitors, during gametogenesis, embryogenesis and during wound healing. This new study in a non bilaterian species reinforces the hypothesis of an ancestral multipotency program.

Concepts: Organism, Animal, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge, Eumetazoa, Bilateria


Understanding how complex traits, such as epithelia, nervous systems, muscles, or guts, originated depends on a well-supported hypothesis about the phylogenetic relationships among major animal lineages. Traditionally, sponges (Porifera) have been interpreted as the sister group to the remaining animals, a hypothesis consistent with the conventional view that the last common animal ancestor was relatively simple and more complex body plans arose later in evolution. However, this premise has recently been challenged by analyses of the genomes of comb jellies (Ctenophora), which, instead, found ctenophores as the sister group to the remaining animals (the “Ctenophora-sister” hypothesis). Because ctenophores are morphologically complex predators with true epithelia, nervous systems, muscles, and guts, this scenario implies these traits were either present in the last common ancestor of all animals and were lost secondarily in sponges and placozoans (Trichoplax) or, alternatively, evolved convergently in comb jellies. Here, we analyze representative datasets from recent studies supporting Ctenophora-sister, including genome-scale alignments of concatenated protein sequences, as well as a genomic gene content dataset. We found no support for Ctenophora-sister and conclude it is an artifact resulting from inadequate methodology, especially the use of simplistic evolutionary models and inappropriate choice of species to root the metazoan tree. Our results reinforce a traditional scenario for the evolution of complexity in animals, and indicate that inferences about the evolution of Metazoa based on the Ctenophora-sister hypothesis are not supported by the currently available data.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Animal, Phylogenetic tree, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge


The role of the cellular microenvironment in enabling metazoan tissue genesis remains obscure. Ctenophora has recently emerged as one of the earliest-branching extant animal phyla, providing a unique opportunity to explore the evolutionary role of the cellular microenvironment in tissue genesis. Here, we characterized the extracellular matrix (ECM), with a focus on collagen IV and its variant, spongin short-chain collagens, of non-bilaterian animal phyla. We identified basement membrane (BM) and collagen IV in Ctenophora, and show that the structural and genomic features of collagen IV are homologous to those of non-bilaterian animal phyla and Bilateria. Yet, ctenophore features are more diverse and distinct, expressing up to twenty genes compared to six in vertebrates. Moreover, collagen IV is absent in unicellular sister-groups. Collectively, we conclude that collagen IV and its variant, spongin, are primordial components of the extracellular microenvironment, and as a component of BM, collagen IV enabled the assembly of a fundamental architectural unit for multicellular tissue genesis.

Concepts: Collagen, Extracellular matrix, Animal, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge, Radiata


Animals have a carefully orchestrated relationship with oxygen. When exposed to low environmental oxygen concentrations, and during periods of increased energy expenditure, animals maintain cellular oxygen homeostasis by enhancing internal oxygen delivery, and by enabling the anaerobic production of ATP. These low-oxygen responses are thought to be controlled universally across animals by the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF). We find, however, that sponge and ctenophore genomes lack key components of the HIF pathway. Since sponges and ctenophores are likely sister to all remaining animal phyla, the last common ancestor of extant animals likely lacked the HIF pathway as well. Laboratory experiments show that the marine sponge Tethya wilhelma maintains normal transcription under oxygen levels down to 0.25% of modern atmospheric saturation, the lowest levels we investigated, consistent with the predicted absence of HIF or any other HIF-like pathway. Thus, the last common ancestor of all living animals could have metabolized aerobically under very low environmental oxygen concentrations.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Animal, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Oxygen therapy, Sponge, Eumetazoa


Sponges (phylum Porifera) are one of the most ancient extant multicellular animals and can provide valuable insights into origin and early evolution of Metazoa. High plasticity of cell differentiations and anatomical structure is characteristic feature of sponges. Present study deals with sponge cell reaggregation after dissociation as the most outstanding case of sponge plasticity. Dynamic of cell reaggregation and structure of multicellular aggregates of three demosponge species (Halichondria panicea (Pallas, 1766), Haliclona aquaeductus (Sсhmidt, 1862), and Halisarca dujardinii Johnston, 1842) were studied. Sponge tissue dissociation was performed mechanically. Resulting cell suspensions were cultured at 8-10°C for at least 5 days. Structure of multicellular aggregates was studied by light, transmission and scanning electron microscopy. Studied species share common stages of cell reaggregation-primary multicellular aggregates, early-stage primmorphs and primmorphs, but the rate of reaggregation varies considerably among species. Only cells of H. dujardinii are able to reconstruct functional and viable sponge after primmorphs formation. Sponge reconstruction in this species occurs due to active cell locomotion. Development of H. aquaeductus and H. panicea cells ceases at the stages of early primmorphs and primmorphs, respectively. Development of aggregates of these species is most likely arrested due to immobility of the majority of cells inside them. However, the inability of certain sponge species to reconstruct functional and viable individuals during cell reaggregation may be not a permanent species-specific characteristic, but depends on various factors, including the stage of the life cycle and experimental conditions. J. Exp. Zool. 9999A:XX-XX, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Animal, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge, Eumetazoa, Bryozoa


Exceptionally preserved fossils provide crucial insights into extinct body plans and organismal evolution. Molluscs, one of the most disparate animal phyla, radiated rapidly during the early Cambrian period (approximately 535-520 million years ago (Ma)). The problematic fossil taxa Halkieria and Orthrozanclus (grouped in Sachitida) have been assigned variously to stem-group annelids, brachiopods, stem-group molluscs or stem-group aculiferans (Polyplacophora and Aplacophora), but their affinities have remained controversial owing to a lack of preserved diagnostic characters. Here we describe a new early sachitid, Calvapilosa kroegeri gen. et sp. nov. from the Fezouata biota of Morocco (Early Ordovician epoch, around 478 Ma). The new taxon is characterized by the presence of a single large anterior shell plate and polystichous radula bearing a median tooth and several lateral and uncinal teeth in more than 125 rows. Its flattened body is covered by hollow spinose sclerites, and a smooth, ventral girdle flanks an extensive mantle cavity. Phylogenetic analyses resolve C. kroegeri as a stem-group aculiferan together with other single-plated forms such as Maikhanella (Siphogonuchites) and Orthrozanclus; Halkieria is recovered closer to the aculiferan crown. These genera document the stepwise evolution of the aculiferan body plan from forms with a single, almost conchiferan-like shell through two-plated taxa such as Halkieria, to the eight-plated crown-group aculiferans. C. kroegeri therefore provides key evidence concerning the long debate about the crown molluscan affinities of sachitids. This new discovery strongly suggests that the possession of only a single calcareous shell plate and the presence of unmineralised sclerites are plesiomorphic (an ancestral trait) for the molluscan crown.

Concepts: Phylogenetics, Phylum, Mollusca, Fossil, Cambrian explosion, Ordovician, Cambrian, Halkieria


The Palaeozoic form-taxon Lobopodia encompasses a diverse range of soft-bodied ‘legged worms’ known from exceptional fossil deposits. Although lobopodians occupy a deep phylogenetic position within Panarthropoda, a shortage of derived characters obscures their evolutionary relationships with extant phyla (Onychophora, Tardigrada and Euarthropoda). Here we describe a complex feature in the terminal claws of the mid-Cambrian lobopodian Hallucigenia sparsa-their construction from a stack of constituent elements-and demonstrate that equivalent elements make up the jaws and claws of extant Onychophora. A cladistic analysis, informed by developmental data on panarthropod head segmentation, indicates that the stacked sclerite components in these two taxa are homologous-resolving hallucigeniid lobopodians as stem-group onychophorans. The results indicate a sister-group relationship between Tardigrada and Euarthropoda, adding palaeontological support to the neurological and musculoskeletal evidence uniting these disparate clades. These findings elucidate the evolutionary transformations that gave rise to the panarthropod phyla, and expound the lobopodian-like morphology of the ancestral panarthropod.

Concepts: Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Clade, Phylum, Taxon, Ecdysozoa, Onychophora


The approximately 350 demosponge species that have been described from Antarctica represent a faunistic component distinct from that of neighboring regions. Sponges provide structure to the Antarctic benthos and refuge to other invertebrates, and can be dominant in some communities. Despite the importance of sponges in the Antarctic subtidal environment, sponge DNA barcodes are scarce but can provide insight into the evolutionary relationships of this unique biogeographic province.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Evolution, Species, Phylum, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Sponge, Bryozoa