The order Mucorales comprises predominantly fast-growing saprotrophic fungi, some of which are used for the fermentation of foodstuffs but it also includes species known to cause infections in patients with severe immune or metabolic impairments. To inventory biodiversity in Mucorales ITS barcodes of 668 strains in 203 taxa were generated covering more than two thirds of the recognised species. Using the ITS sequences, Molecular Operational Taxonomic Units were defined by a similarity threshold of 99 %. An LSU sequence was generated for each unit as well. Analysis of the LSU sequences revealed that conventional phenotypic classifications of the Mucoraceae are highly artificial. The LSU- and ITS-based trees suggest that characters, such as rhizoids and sporangiola, traditionally used in mucoralean taxonomy are plesiomorphic traits. The ITS region turned out to be an appropriate barcoding marker in Mucorales. It could be sequenced directly in 82 % of the strains and its variability was sufficient to resolve most of the morphospecies. Molecular identification turned out to be problematic only for the species complexes of Mucor circinelloides, M. flavus, M. piriformis and Zygorhynchus moelleri. As many as 12 possibly undescribed species were detected. Intraspecific variability differed widely among mucorealean species ranging from 0 % in Backusella circina to 13.3 % in Cunninghamella echinulata. A high proportion of clinical strains was included for molecular identification. Clinical isolates of Cunninghamella elegans were identified molecularly for the first time. As a result of the phylogenetic analyses several taxonomic and nomenclatural changes became necessary. The genus Backusella was emended to include all species with transitorily recurved sporangiophores. Since this matched molecular data all Mucor species possessing this character were transferred to Backusella. The genus Zygorhynchus was shown to be polyphyletic based on ITS and LSU data. Consequently, Zygorhynchus was abandoned and all species were reclassified in Mucor. Our phylogenetic analyses showed, furthermore, that all non-thermophilic Rhizomucor species belong to Mucor. Accordingly, Rhizomucor endophyticus was transferred to Mucor and Rhizomucor chlamydosporus was synonymised with Mucor indicus. Lecto-, epi- or neotypes were designated for several taxa.
Keywords: Backusella; DNA barcoding; ITS; LSU; Mucor; Mucorales; Rhizomucor; Zygorhynchus; biodiversity; clinical relevance; intraspecific variability; nomenclature; taxonomy.