Collodaria are ubiquitous and abundant marine radiolarian (Rhizaria) protists. They occur as either large colonies or solitary specimens, and, unlike most radiolarians, some taxa lack silicified structures. Collodarians are known to play an important role in oceanic food webs as both active predators and hosts of symbiotic microalgae, yet very little is known about their diversity and evolution. Taxonomic delineation of collodarians is challenging and only a few species have been genetically characterized. Here we investigated collodarian diversity using phylogenetic analyses of both nuclear small (18S) and large (28S) subunits of the ribosomal DNA, including 124 new sequences from 75 collodarians sampled worldwide. The resulting molecular phylogeny was compared to morphology-based classification. Our analyses distinguished the monophyletic clade of skeleton-less and spicule-bearing Sphaerozoidae from the sister clades Collosphaeridae (skeleton-bearing) and Collophidiidae (skeleton-less), while the Thalassicollidae was not retrieved as a monophyletic clade. Detailed morphological examination with electron microscopy combined with molecular analyses revealed many discrepancies, such as a mix between solitary and colonial species, co-existence of skeleton-less and skeleton-bearing specimens within the Collosphaeridae, as well as complex intraspecific variability in silicified structures. Such observations challenge a morphology-based classification and highlight the pertinence of an integrative taxonomic approach to study collodarian diversity.
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