Broad North Atlantic distribution of a meiobenthic annelid – against all odds

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DNA barcoding and population genetic studies have revealed an unforeseen hidden diversity of cryptic species among microscopic marine benthos, otherwise exhibiting highly similar and simple morphologies. This has led to a paradigm shift, rejecting cosmopolitism of marine meiofauna until genetically proven and challenging the “Everything is Everywhere, but the environment selects” hypothesis that claims ubiquitous distribution of microscopic organisms. With phylogenetic and species delimitation analyses of worldwide genetic samples of the meiofaunal family Dinophilidae (Annelida) we here resolve three genera within the family and showcase an exceptionally broad, boreal, North Atlantic distribution of a single microscopic marine species with no obvious means of dispersal besides vicariance. With its endobenthic lifestyle, small size, limited migratory powers and lack of pelagic larvae, the broad distribution of Dinophilus vorticoides seems to constitute a “meiofaunal paradox”. This species feasts in the biofilm among sand grains, but also on macroalgae and ice within which it can likely survive long-distance rafting dispersal due to its varying lifecycle stages; eggs encapsulated in cocoons and dormant encystment stages. Though often neglected and possibly underestimated among marine microscopic species, dormancy may be a highly significant factor for explaining wide distribution patterns and a key to solving this meiofaunal paradox.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15497
JournalScientific Reports
Volume9
Number of pages13
ISSN2045-2322
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

ID: 230094974