The ascidian species Ciona intestinalis is a major model chordate in developmental and evolutionary biology, and an important fouling organism and invasive species. However, genomic investigation has recently revealed the existence of two cryptic species, genetically distinct yet without obvious morphological differences, currently referred to as types A and B. Here, we show that they are externally distinctive in a zone of sympatry in the western English Channel. Examining genotyped specimens, we found that types A and B of C. intestinalis can generally be distinguished by body colour, pigmentation at the distal end of the siphons and the presence or absence of tubercles on the sides of the siphons. Detecting specimens of hybrid descent still requires detailed molecular analysis, but these visual characters in combination will identify living specimens of types A and B with high probability. These differences are shown to be inherited.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science