Of sea, rivers and symbiosis: Diversity, systematics, biogeography and evolution of the deeply diverging florideophycean order Hildenbrandiales (Rhodophyta)

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2024 Aug:197:108106. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2024.108106. Epub 2024 May 13.


The Hildenbrandiales, a typically saxicolous red algal order, is an early diverging florideophycean group with global significance in marine and freshwater ecosystems across diverse temperature zones. To comprehensively elucidate the diversity, phylogeny, biogeography, and evolution of this order, we conducted a thorough re-examination employing molecular data derived from nearly 700 specimens. Employing a species delimitation method, we identified Evolutionary Species Units (ESUs) within the Hildenbrandiales aiming to enhance our understanding of species diversity and generate the first time-calibrated tree and ancestral area reconstruction for this order. Mitochondrial cox1 and chloroplast rbcL markers were used to infer species boundaries, and subsequent phylogenetic reconstructions involved concatenated sequences of cox1, rbcL, and 18S rDNA. Time calibration of the resulting phylogenetic tree used a fossil record from a Triassic purportedly freshwater Hildenbrandia species and three secondary time points from the literature. Our species delimitation analysis revealed an astounding 97 distinct ESUs, quintupling the known diversity within this order. Our time-calibration analysis placed the origin of Hildenbrandiales (crown age) in the Ediacaran period, with freshwater species emerging as a monophyletic group during the later Permian to early Triassic. Phylogenetic reconstructions identified seven major clades, experiencing early diversification during the Silurian to Carboniferous period. Two major evolutionary events-colonization of freshwater habitats and obligate systemic symbiosis with a marine fungus-marked this order, leading to significant morphological alterations without a commensurate increase in species diversification. Despite the remarkable newly discovered diversity, the extant taxon diversity appears relatively constrained when viewed against an evolutionary timeline spanning over 800 million years. This limitation may stem from restricted geographic sampling or the prevalence of asexual reproduction. However, species richness estimation and rarefaction analyses suggest a substantially larger diversity yet to be uncovered-potentially four times greater. These findings drastically reshape our understanding of the deeply diverging florideophycean order Hildenbrandiales species diversity, and contribute valuable insights into this order's evolutionary history and ecological adaptations. Supported by phylogenetic, ecological and morphological evidence, we established the genus Riverina gen. nov. to accommodate freshwater species of Hildenbrandiales, which form a monophyletic clade in our analyses. This marks the first step toward refining the taxonomy of the Hildenbrandiales, an order demanding thorough revisions, notably with the creation of several genera to address the polyphyletic status of Hildenbrandia. However, the limited diagnostic features pose a challenge, necessitating a fresh approach to defining genera. A potential solution lies in embracing a molecular systematic perspective, which can offer precise delineations of taxonomic boundaries.

Keywords: 18S rDNA; Apophlaea; Hildenbrandia; Molecular phylogeny; Riverina gen. nov.; Temporal phylogeny; cox1; rbcL.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Phylogeny*
  • Phylogeography
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S / genetics
  • Rhodophyta* / classification
  • Rhodophyta* / genetics
  • Rivers
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Symbiosis* / genetics


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 18S