Coral response to environmental stress
Cnidarian phylogeny and evolution
Using molecular genetic data for phylogenetic analyses, members of our lab infer the evolutionary relationships of cnidarians (jellyfish, hydroids, anemones, corals and their kin). By doing so, we lay the foundation for understanding the diversity of cnidarians observed today. Using genetic information in conjunction with phylogenetic analyses has allowed our collaborators and us revision of the classification of cnidarians, delimitation and description of new species. Phylogenies based on expanding molecular genetic datasets allows for discerning between competing hypotheses of evolutionary relationships and revision of the characters defining taxonomic units using a reverse taxonomic approach – the phylogenetic tree informs us on how to interpret the morphology and anatomy of species.
Recent contributions included a phylogenetic analysis based on genome-scale data that clarified several long-standing debates on cnidarian relationships (Kayal et al. 2018), the revision of a genus of deep-sea jellyfish (Lindsay et al. 2017), and a phylogeographic study that established the box jellyfish Alatina alata as circumtropically distributed (Lawley et al. 2016). Taxonomic revisions and keys are natural byproducts of this research (e.g., Bentlage & Lewis 2012).
Using the information on historical relationships encoded in phylogenies allows for testing evolutionary scenarios. Recently, we used this approach to infer the patterns of life cycle evolution in hydrozoan jellyfish (Bentlage et al. 2018). Relying on an almost complete phylogeny of corals, we are working toward understanding the history of the symbiosis between corals and their photosynthetic symbionts (zooxanthellae). This work should shed light on whether or not the last common ancestor of corals possessed zooxanthellae, when photosymbiosis evolved in the history of corals, and if reef-expansion coincided with the acquisition of zooxanthellae.
Our work is currently funded through the National Science Foundation’s Guam EPSCoR grant OIA-14577769. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.