Sequence data were obtained for five different loci, both mitochondrial (cox1, mtMutS, 16S) and nuclear (18S, 28S rDNA) from 64 species representing 25 genera of the common deep-sea octocoral family Primnoidae. We tested the hypothesis that Primnoidae have an Antarctic origin, as this is where they currently have high species richness, using Maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference methods of phylogenetic analysis. Using a time-calibrated molecular phylogeny we also investigated the time of species radiation in sub-Antarctic Primnoidae.
Our relatively wide taxon sampling and phylogenetic analysis supported Primnoidae as a monophyletic family. The base of the well-supported phylogeny was Pacific in origin, indicating Primnoidae sub-Antarctic diversity is a secondary species radiation. There is also evidence for a subsequent range extension of sub-Antarctic lineages into deep-water areas of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Conservative and speculative fossil-calibration analyses resulted in two differing estimations of sub-Antarctic species divergence times. Conservative analysis suggested a sub-Antarctic species radiation occurred ∼52 MYA (95% HPD: 36–73 MYA), potentially before the opening of the Drake Passage and Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) formation (41–37 MYA). Speculative analysis pushed this radiation back into the late Jurassic, 157 MYA (95% HPD: 118–204 MYA).
Genus-level groupings were broadly supported in this analysis with some notable polyphyletic exceptions: Callogorgia, Fanellia, Primnoella, Plumarella, Thouarella. Molecular and morphological evidence supports the placement of Tauroprimnoa austasensis within Dasystenella and Fannyella kuekenthali within Metafannyella.