Molecular phylogeny of extant horseshoe crabs (Xiphosura, Limulidae) indicates Paleogene diversification of Asian species

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2012 Jan;62(1):21-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2011.08.025. Epub 2011 Sep 14.


Horseshoe crabs are marine invertebrates well known for their exceptionally low rates of diversification during their entire evolutionary history. Despite the low species diversity in the group, the phylogenetic relationships among the extant species, especially among the three Asian species are still unresolved. Here we apply a new set of molecular genetic data in combination with a wide geographic sampling of the intra-specific diversity to reinvestigate the evolutionary history among the four living limulid xiphosurans. Our analysis of the intraspecific diversity reveals low levels of connectivity among Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda lineages, which can be explained by the estuarine-bound ecology of this species. Moreover, a clear genetic break across the Thai-Malay Peninsula suggests the presence of cryptic species in C. rotundicauda. The limulid phylogeny finds strong support for a monophyletic genus Tachypleus and a diversification of the three Asian species during the Paleogene period, with speciation events well separated in time by several million years. The tree topology suggests that the three Asian species originated in central South East Asia from a marine stem group that inhabited the shallow coastal waters between the Andaman Sea, Vietnam, and Borneo. In this region C. rotundicauda probably separated from the Tachypleus stem group by invading estuarine habitats, while Tachypleus tridentatus most likely migrated northeast along the Southern coast of China and towards Japan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Proteins / genetics
  • Asia
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Horseshoe Crabs / classification*
  • Horseshoe Crabs / genetics*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Phylogeography
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Arthropod Proteins
  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Electron Transport Complex IV

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF018656
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