Open Access Research article

The complete mitochondrial genome of Flustra foliacea (Ectoprocta, Cheilostomata) - compositional bias affects phylogenetic analyses of lophotrochozoan relationships

Maximilian P Nesnidal12, Martin Helmkampf13, Iris Bruchhaus2 and Bernhard Hausdorf1*

Author Affiliations

1 Zoological Museum of the University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King-Platz 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

2 Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Bernhard-Nocht-Strasse 74, 20359 Hamburg, Germany

3 School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, 427 East Tyler Mall, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:572  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-572

Published: 23 November 2011



The phylogenetic relationships of the lophophorate lineages, ectoprocts, brachiopods and phoronids, within Lophotrochozoa are still controversial. We sequenced an additional mitochondrial genome of the most species-rich lophophorate lineage, the ectoprocts. Although it is known that there are large differences in the nucleotide composition of mitochondrial sequences of different lineages as well as in the amino acid composition of the encoded proteins, this bias is often not considered in phylogenetic analyses. We applied several approaches for reducing compositional bias and saturation in the phylogenetic analyses of the mitochondrial sequences.


The complete mitochondrial genome (16,089 bp) of Flustra foliacea (Ectoprocta, Gymnolaemata, Cheilostomata) was sequenced. All protein-encoding, rRNA and tRNA genes are transcribed from the same strand. Flustra shares long intergenic sequences with the cheilostomate ectoproct Bugula, which might be a synapomorphy of these taxa. Further synapomorphies might be the loss of the DHU arm of the tRNA L(UUR), the loss of the DHU arm of the tRNA S(UCN) and the unique anticodon sequence GAG of the tRNA L(CUN). The gene order of the mitochondrial genome of Flustra differs strongly from that of the other known ectoprocts. Phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial nucleotide and amino acid data sets show that the lophophorate lineages are more closely related to trochozoan phyla than to deuterostomes or ecdysozoans confirming the Lophotrochozoa hypothesis. Furthermore, they support the monophyly of Cheilostomata and Ectoprocta. However, the relationships of the lophophorate lineages within Lophotrochozoa differ strongly depending on the data set and the used method. Different approaches for reducing heterogeneity in nucleotide and amino acid data sets and saturation did not result in a more robust resolution of lophotrochozoan relationships.


The contradictory and usually weakly supported phylogenetic reconstructions of the relationships among lophotrochozoan phyla based on mitochondrial sequences indicate that these alone do not contain enough information for a robust resolution of the relations of the lophotrochozoan phyla. The mitochondrial gene order is also not useful for inferring their phylogenetic relationships, because it is highly variable in ectoprocts, brachiopods and some other lophotrochozoan phyla. However, our study revealed several rare genomic changes like the evolution of long intergenic sequences and changes in the structure of tRNAs, which may be helpful for reconstructing ectoproct phylogeny.