With declining biodiversity worldwide, a better understanding of species diversity and their relationships is imperative for conservation and management efforts. Marine sponges are species-rich ecological key players on coral reefs, but their species diversity is still poorly understood. This is particularly true for the demosponge order Haplosclerida, whose systematic relationships are contentious due to the incongruencies between morphological and molecular phylogenetic hypotheses. The single gene markers applied in previous studies did not resolve these discrepancies. Hence, there is a high need for a genome-wide approach to derive a phylogenetically robust classification and understand this group's evolutionary relationships. To this end, we developed a target enrichment-based multilocus probe assay for the order Haplosclerida using transcriptomic data. This probe assay consists of 20,000 enrichment probes targeting 2956 ultraconserved elements in coding (i.e. exon) regions across the genome and was tested on 26 haplosclerid specimens from the Red Sea. Our target-enrichment approach correctly placed our samples in a well-supported phylogeny, in agreement with previous haplosclerid molecular phylogenies. Our results demonstrate the applicability of high-resolution genomic methods in a systematically complex marine invertebrate group and provide a promising approach for robust phylogenies of Haplosclerida. Subsequently, this will lead to biologically unambiguous taxonomic revisions, better interpretations of biological and ecological observations and new avenues for applied research, conservation and managing declining marine diversity.

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Molecular Ecology Resources

Released under the CC-BY 4.0 ("Attribution 4.0 International") License

Staff publications

van der Sprong, Joëlle, de Voogd, N., McCormack, Grace Patricia, Sandoval, Kenneth, Schätzle, Simone, Voigt, Oliver, … Vargas, Sergio. (2023). A novel target‐enriched multilocus assay for sponges (Porifera): Red Sea Haplosclerida (Demospongiae) as a test case. Molecular Ecology Resources, 24(2), e1389–e1389. doi:10.1111/1755-0998.13891