Species boundaries of Gulf of Mexico vestimentiferans (Polychaeta, Siboglinidae) inferred from mitochondrial genes
At least six morphospecies of vestimentiferan tubeworms are associated with cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The physiology and ecology of the two best-studied species from depths above 1000 m in the upper Louisiana slope (Lamellibrachia luymesi and Seepiophila jonesi) are relatively well understood. The biology of one rare species from the upper slope (escarpiid sp. nov.) and three morphospecies found at greater depths in the GOM (Lamellibrachia sp. 1, L. sp. 2, and Escarpia laminata) are not as well understood. Here we address species distributions and boundaries of cold-seep tubeworms using phylogenetic hypotheses based on two mitochondrial genes. Fragments of the mitochondrial large ribosomal subunit rDNA (16S) and cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) genes were sequenced for 167 vestimentiferans collected from the GOM and analyzed in the context of other seep vestimentiferans for which sequence data were available. The analysis supported five monophyletic clades of vestimentiferans in the GOM. Intra-clade variation in both genes was very low, and there was no apparent correlation between the within-clade diversity and collection depth or location. Two of the morphospecies of Lamellibrachia from different depths in the GOM could not be distinguished by either mitochondrial gene. Similarly, E. laminata could not be distinguished from other described species of Escarpia from either the west coast of Africa or the eastern Pacific using COI. We suggest that the mitochondrial COI and 16S genes have little utility as barcoding markers for seep vestimentiferan tubeworms.