The order Aplousobranchia (Chordata, Ascidiacea) contains approximately 1500 species distributed worldwide. Their phylogeny, however, remains unclear, with unresolved family relationships. While most Aplousobranchia are colonial, debates exist concerning the phylogenetic position of families such as the Diazonidae and Cionidae, which exhibit a solitary lifestyle and share morphological characteristics with both Aplousobranchia and Phlebobranchia orders. To clarify the phylogenetic position of the Diazonidae and Cionidae, we determined the complete mitochondrial sequence of the solitary diazonid Rhopalaea idoneta. The phylogenetic reconstruction based on the 13 mitochondrial protein coding genes strongly supports a positioning of Diazonidae well-nested within the Aplousobranchia rather than a positioning as a sister clade of the Aplousobranchia. In addition, we examined the regenerative ability of R. idoneta. Similar to colonial Aplousobranchia, R. idoneta was found to be able to completely regenerate its thorax. Ciona, also known to possess high regenerative abilities, is the Aplousobranchia sister clade rather than a member of the Phlebobranchia. Our results thus indicate that the colonial lifestyle was acquired in the Aplousobranchia, starting from a Ciona-like solitary ancestor and secondarily lost in Diazonidae representatives such as Rhopalaea. The solitary lifestyle of Rhopalaea is thus a derived characteristic rather than an ancestral trait.
- Mitochondrial genome