Symbiotic dinoflagellates belonging to the genus Symbiodinium are found in association with a wide variety of shallow-water invertebrates and protists dwelling in tropical and subtropical coral-reef ecosystems. Molecular phylogeny of Symbiodinium, initially inferred using nuclear ribosomal genes, was recently confirmed by studies of chloroplastic and mitochondrial genes, but with limited taxon sampling and low resolution. Here, we present the first complete view of Symbiodinium phylogeny based on concatenated partial sequences of chloroplast 23S-rDNA (cp23S) and nuclear 28S-rDNA (nr28S) genes, including all known Symbiodinium lineages. Our data produced a well resolved phylogenetic tree and provide a strong statistical support for the eight distinctive clades (A-H) that form the major taxa of Symbiodinium. The relative-rate tests did not show particularly high differences between lineages and both analysed markers. However, maximum likelihood ratio tests rejected a global molecular clock. Therefore, we applied a relaxed molecular clock method to infer the divergence times of all extant lineages of Symbiodinium, calibrating its phylogenetic tree with the fossil record of soritid foraminifera. Our analysis suggests that Symbiodinium originated in early Eocene, and that the majority of extant lineages diversified since mid-Miocene, about 15 million years ago.
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