Saturday, 10 May 2014

Study of sea anemones leads to new branch in the tree of life

A deep-sea animal with tentacles more than six and a half feet long was once thought to be one of the world's largest sea anemones, but has now been reclassified as belonging to a new order of animals and is not a sea anemone at all.

This animal, previously called Boloceroides daphneae, was discovered in 2006 in the deep east Pacific Ocean and labelled as one of the largest sea anemones in existence. But a new DNA-based study led by the American Museum of Natural History shifts it outside of the tree of life for anemones. Instead, researchers have placed it in a newly created order—a classification equal to carnivoria in mammals or crocodilia in reptiles—under the sub-classHexacorallia, which includes stony corals, anemones, and black corals. The new name of the animal, which lives next to hydrothermal vents, is Relicanthus daphneae.

Relicanthus daphneae is a classic example of convergent evolution, the independent evolution of similar features in species of different lineages.

"Even though this animal looks very much like a sea anemone, it is not one," said Estefanía Rodríguez, lead author of the report published in the journal PLOS ONE, and an assistant curator in the Museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology. "Both groups of animals lack the same characters, but our research shows that while the anemones lost those characters over millions of years of evolution, R. daphneae never had them. Putting these animals in the same group would be like classifying worms and snakes together just because neither have legs.

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