Cocquyt E., Verbruggen H., Leliaert F. & De Clerck O. (2010)
Evolution and cytological diversification of the green seaweeds (Ulvophyceae)
Molecular Biology and Evolution 27: 2052-2061


The Ulvophyceae, one of the four classes of the Chlorophyta, is of particular evolutionary interest because it features an unrivaled morphological and cytological diversity. Morphological types range from unicells and simple multicellular filaments to sheet-like and complex corticated thalli. Cytological layouts range from typical small cells containing a single nucleus and chloroplast to giant cells containing millions of nuclei and chloroplasts. In order to understand the evolution of these morphological and cytological types, the present paper aims to assess whether the Ulvophyceae are monophyletic and elucidate the ancient relationships among its orders. Our approach consists of phylogenetic analyses (maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference) of seven nuclear genes, small subunit nuclear ribosomal DNA and two plastid markers with carefully chosen partitioning strategies, and models of sequence evolution. We introduce a procedure for fast site removal (site stripping) targeted at improving phylogenetic signal in a particular epoch of interest and evaluate the specificity of fast site removal to retain signal about ancient relationships. From our phylogenetic analyses, we conclude that the ancestral ulvophyte likely was a unicellular uninucleate organism and that macroscopic growth was achieved independently in various lineages involving radically different mechanisms: either by evolving multicellularity with coupled mitosis and cytokinesis (Ulvales—Ulotrichales and Trentepohliales), by obtaining a multinucleate siphonocladous organization where every nucleus provides for its own cytoplasmic domain (Cladophorales and Blastophysa), or by developing a siphonous organization characterized by either one macronucleus or millions of small nuclei and cytoplasmic streaming (Bryopsidales and Dasycladales). We compare different evolutionary scenarios giving rise to siphonous and siphonocladous cytologies and argue that these did not necessarily evolve from a multicellular or even multinucleate state but instead could have evolved independently from a unicellular ancestor.

Additional resources

full text