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Background: The classification of the family Psilotrichidae, a curious group of ciliated protists with unique morphological and ontogenetic features, is ambiguous and poorly understood particularly due to the lack of molecular data. Hence, the systematic relationship between this group and other taxa in the subclass Hypotrichia remains unresolved. In this paper the morphology and phylogenetics of species from two genera of Psilotrichida are studied to shed new light on the phylogeny and species diversity of this group of ciliates.

Results: The 18S rRNA gene sequences of species from two psilotrichid genera were obtained. In the phylogenetic trees, the available psilotrichid sequences are placed in a highly supported clade, justifying the establishment of the family Psilotrichidae. The morphology of two little-known species, packed with green algae, including a new species, Hemiholosticha kahli nov. spec., and Psilotrichides hawaiiensis Heber et al., 2018, is studied based on live observation, protargol impregnation, and scanning electron microscopy. Both species are easily recognized by their green coloration due to the intracellular algae, and a comprehensive discussion as to the possible roles of the intracellular algae is provided.

Conclusions: The 18S rRNA gene phylogeny supports the morphological argument that Hemiholosticha, Psilotrichides and Urospinula belong to the same family, Psilotrichidae. However, the single-gene analysis, not surprisingly, does not resolve the deeper relationships of Psilotrichidae within the subclass Hypotrichia. Two littleknown psilotrichid genera with green algae were collected from the same puddle on the island of Guam, indicating a high species diversity and broader geographic distribution of this group of ciliates than previously supposed. Phylogenetic inferences from transcriptomic and/or genomic data will likely be necessary to better define the systematic position and evolution of the family Psilotrichidae. Further studies are also needed to clarify the role of the intracellular eyespot-bearing algae in these ciliates.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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