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Phylogenomic Analysis of a Putative Missing Link Sparks Reinterpretation of Leech Evolution

Journal article
Authors A. J. Phillips
A. Dornburg
K. L. Zapfe
F. E. Anderson
S. W. James
Christer Erséus
E. M. Lemmon
A. R. Lemmon
B. W. Williams
Published in Genome Biology and Evolution
Volume 11
Issue 7
Pages 1712-1722
ISSN 1759-6653
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 1712-1722
Language en
Keywords Acanthobdella, anchored hybrid enrichment, Hirudinida, phylogeny, symbiosis, sanguivory, anchored hybrid enrichment, ultraconserved elements, molecular, phylogeny, data sets, 18s rdna, clitellata, annelida, hirudinea, origin, gene, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics & Heredity
Subject categories Evolutionary Biology, Genetics


Leeches (Hirudinida) comprise a charismatic, yet often maligned group of organisms. Despite their ecological, economic, and medical importance, a general consensus on the phylogenetic relationships of major hirudinidan lineages is lacking. This absence of a consistent, robust phylogeny of early-diverging lineages has hindered our understanding of the underlying processes that enabled evolutionary diversification of this clade. Here, we used an anchored hybrid enrichment-based phylogenomic approach, capturing hundreds of loci to investigate phylogenetic relationships among major hirudinidan lineages and their closest living relatives. Our results suggest that a dramatic reinterpretation of early leech evolution is warranted. We recovered Branchiobdellida as sister to a clade that includes all major lineages of hirudinidans, but found Acanthobdella to be nested within Oceanobdelliformes. These results cast doubt on the utility of Acanthobdella as a "missing link" used to explain the origin of blood-feeding in hirudineans. Further, our results support a deep divergence between predominantly marine and freshwater lineages, while not supporting the reciprocal monophyly of jawed and proboscis-bearing leeches. To sum up, our phylogenomic resolution of early-diverging leeches provides a necessary foundation for illuminating the evolution of host-symbiont associations and key adaptations that have allowed leeches to colonize a wide diversity of habitats worldwide.

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