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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 11
Pages 3082-3093
ISSN 1759-6653
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 3082-3093
Language en
Keywords Acanthobdella, anchored hybrid enrichment, Hirudinida, phylogeny, symbiosis, sanguivory
Subject categories Biological Systematics, Genetics, Evolutionary Biology


Leeches (Hirudinida) comprise a charismatic, yet often maligned group of worms. 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. We recovered Branchiobdellida as sister to a clade that includes all major lineages of hirudinidans and Acanthobdella, casting doubt on the utility of Acanthobdella as a “missing link” between hirudinidans and the clitellate group formerly known as Oligochaeta. Further, our results corroborate the reciprocal monophyly of jawed and proboscis-bearing leeches. Our phylogenomic resolution of early-diverging leeches provides a useful framework for illuminating the evolution of key adaptations and host–symbiont associations that have allowed leeches to colonize a wide diversity of habitats worldwide.

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