Background: Nematodes are among the most diverse and abundant metazoans on Earth, but research on them has been biased toward parasitic taxa and model organisms. Free-living nematodes, particularly from the clades Enoplia and Dorylaimia, have been underrepresented in genome-scale phylogenetic analyses to date, leading to poor resolution of deep relationships within the phylum.
Results: We supplemented publicly available data by sequencing transcriptomes of nine free-living nematodes and two important outgroups and conducted a phylum-wide phylogenomic analysis including a total of 108 nematodes. Analysis of a dataset generated using a conservative orthology inference strategy resulted in a matrix with a high proportion of missing data and moderate to weak support for branching within and placement of Enoplia. A less conservative orthology inference approach recovered more genes and resulted in higher support for the deepest splits within Nematoda, recovering Enoplia as the sister taxon to the rest of Nematoda. Relationships within major clades were similar to those found in previously published studies based on 18S rDNA.
Conclusions: Expanded transcriptome sequencing of free-living nematodes has contributed to better resolution among deep nematode lineages, though the dataset is still strongly biased toward parasites. Inclusion of more free-living nematodes in future phylogenomic analyses will allow a clearer understanding of many interesting aspects of nematode evolution, such as morphological and molecular adaptations to parasitism and whether nematodes originated in a marine or terrestrial environment.
Keywords: Free-living; Nematoda; Parasitism; Phylogenomic.