Genealogical Analyses of Multiple Loci of Litostomatean Ciliates (Protista, Ciliophora, Litostomatea)

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The class Litostomatea is a highly diverse ciliate taxon comprising hundreds of free-living and endocommensal species. However, their traditional morphology-based classification conflicts with 18S rRNA gene phylogenies indicating (1) a deep bifurcation of the Litostomatea into Rhynchostomatia and Haptoria + Trichostomatia, and (2) body polarization and simplification of the oral apparatus as main evolutionary trends in the Litostomatea. To test whether 18S rRNA molecules provide a suitable proxy for litostomatean evolutionary history, we used eighteen new ITS1-5.8S rRNA-ITS2 region sequences from various free-living litostomatean orders. These single- and multiple-locus analyses are in agreement with previous 18S rRNA gene phylogenies, supporting that both 18S rRNA gene and ITS region sequences are effective tools for resolving phylogenetic relationships among the litostomateans. Despite insertions, deletions and mutational saturations in the ITS region, the present study shows that ITS1 and ITS2 molecules can be used to infer phylogenetic relationships not only at species level but also at higher taxonomic ranks when their secondary structure information is utilized to aid alignment.