Do genes lie? Mitochondrial capture masks the Red Sea collector urchin's true identity (Echinodermata: Echinoidea: Tripneustes)

Omri Bronstein, Andreas Kroh, Elisabeth Haring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Novel COI and bindin sequences of the Red Sea collector echinoid Tripneustes gratilla elatensis are used to show that (1) discordance between mitochondrial and nuclear loci exists in this echinoid genus, (2) Tripneustes gratilla as currently defined possibly comprises a complex of cryptic species, and (3) Red Sea Tripneustes form a genetically distinct clade in the bindin tree, which diverged from other Tripneustes clades at least 2–4 million years ago. Morphological reassessment of T. gratilla elatensis shows perfect congruence between identification based on skeletal features and genetic data based on a nuclear marker sequence. Hence the Red Sea Tripneustes subspecies established by Dafni in 1983 is a distinct biological unit. All T. g. elatensis samples analyzed are highly similar to or share mtDNA haplotypes with Philippine T. g. gratilla, as do representatives from other edge-of-range occurrences. This lack of genetic structure in Indo-Pacific Tripneustes is interpreted as a result of wide-spread mitochondrial introgression. New fossil specimens from the Red Sea area confirm the sympatric occurrence of T. g. elatensis and T. g. gratilla in the northern Red Sea during Late Pleistocene, identifying a possible timing for the introgression. In addition, present-day distribution shows a contact zone in the Southern Red Sea (in the Dahlak Archipelago). T. g. elatensis, is yet another example of a Red Sea taxon historically identified as conspecific with its Indo-Pacific relatives, but which turned out to be a morphologically and genetically distinct endemic taxon, suggesting that the level of endemism in the Red Sea may still be underestimated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Biogeography
  • Integrative taxonomy
  • Mitochondrial capture
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Red Sea
  • Toxopneustidae

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


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