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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e33479. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033479. Epub 2012 Apr 10.

Traditional taxonomic groupings mask evolutionary history: a molecular phylogeny and new classification of the chromodorid nudibranchs.

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  • 1Department of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California, United States of America. rjohnson@calacademy.org


Chromodorid nudibranchs (16 genera, 300+ species) are beautiful, brightly colored sea slugs found primarily in tropical coral reef habitats and subtropical coastal waters. The chromodorids are the most speciose family of opisthobranchs and one of the most diverse heterobranch clades. Chromodorids have the potential to be a model group with which to study diversification, color pattern evolution, are important source organisms in natural products chemistry and represent a stunning and widely compelling example of marine biodiversity. Here, we present the most complete molecular phylogeny of the chromodorid nudibranchs to date, with a broad sample of 244 specimens (142 new), representing 157 (106 new) chromodorid species, four actinocylcid species and four additional dorid species utilizing two mitochondrial markers (16s and COI). We confirmed the monophyly of the Chromodorididae and its sister group relationship with the Actinocyclidae. We were also able to, for the first time, test generic monophyly by including more than one member of all 14 of the non-monotypic chromodorid genera. Every one of these 14 traditional chromodorid genera are either non-monophyletic, or render another genus paraphyletic. Additionally, both the monotypic genera Verconia and Diversidoris are nested within clades. Based on data shown here, there are three individual species and five clades limited to the eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (or just one of these ocean regions), while the majority of chromodorid clades and species are strictly Indo-Pacific in distribution. We present a new classification of the chromodorid nudibranchs. We use molecular data to untangle evolutionary relationships and retain a historical connection to traditional systematics by using generic names attached to type species as clade names.

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