How discordant morphological and molecular evolution among microorganisms can revise our notions of biodiversity on Earth

Bioessays 36 (10):950-959 (2014)
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Abstract

Microscopy has revealed tremendous diversity of bacterial and eukaryotic forms. Recent molecular analyses show discordance in estimates of biodiversity between morphological and molecular analyses. Moreover, phylogenetic analyses of the diversity of microbial forms reveal evidence of convergence at scales as deep as interdomain: morphologies shared between bacteria and eukaryotes. Here, we highlight examples of such discordance, focusing on exemplary lineages such as testate amoebae, ciliates, and cyanobacteria. These have long histories of morphological study, enabling deeper analyses on both the molecular and morphological sides. We discuss examples in two main categories: (i) morphologically identical (or highly similar) individuals that are genetically distinct and (ii) morphologically distinct individuals that are genetically the same. We argue that hypotheses about discordance can be tested using the concept of neutral morphologies, or more broadly neutral phenotypes, as a null hypothesis.

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