Estimation of divergence times in cnidarian evolution based on mitochondrial protein-coding genes and the fossil record

Eunji Park, Dae Sik Hwang, Jae Seong Lee, Jun Im Song, Tae Kun Seo, Yong Jin Won

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179 Scopus citations


The phylum Cnidaria is comprised of remarkably diverse and ecologically significant taxa, such as the reef-forming corals, and occupies a basal position in metazoan evolution. The origin of this phylum and the most recent common ancestors (MRCAs) of its modern classes remain mostly unknown, although scattered fossil evidence provides some insights on this topic. Here, we investigate the molecular divergence times of the major taxonomic groups of Cnidaria (27 Hexacorallia, 16 Octocorallia, and 5 Medusozoa) on the basis of mitochondrial DNA sequences of 13 protein-coding genes. For this analysis, the complete mitochondrial genomes of seven octocoral and two scyphozoan species were newly sequenced and combined with all available mitogenomic data from GenBank. Five reliable fossil dates were used to calibrate the Bayesian estimates of divergence times. The molecular evidence suggests that cnidarians originated 741 million years ago (Ma) (95% credible region of 686-819), and the major taxa diversified prior to the Cambrian (543. Ma). The Octocorallia and Scleractinia may have originated from radiations of survivors of the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which matches their fossil record well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-345
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Robert C. Vrijenhoek, Steven H.D. Haddock, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism, which has improved this paper. We also thank the members of the Korean Coral Resource Bank at Ewha Womans University for generously providing the specimens of octocoral species examined in the present study. The present work was supported by the grant for “The Genetic Evaluation of Important Biological Resources” (No. 074-1800-1844-304) funded by the National Institute of Biological Resources (NIBR), Korean Government, to Y.-J. Won. T.-K. Seo was supported by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research(C-23570108) of Japan.


  • Cnidaria
  • Divergence times
  • Hexacorallia
  • Medusozoa
  • Mitochondrial genome
  • Octocorallia


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