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Determinants and taxonomic consequences of extreme egg shell variability in Ramazzottius subanomalus (Biserov, 1985) (Tardigrada)



Nearly a half of known eutardigrade species lay ornamented eggs. The ornamentation is thought to provide attachment of the egg to the substrate and protection for the developing embryo, but from the taxonomic point of view chorion morphology may also provide key characters for species differentiation and identification, especially between closely related taxa. Nonetheless, despite the evolutionary and taxonomic importance of the egg shell, the determinants of its morphology are very poorly, if at all, understood. Here, we combine morphological, molecular and experimental approaches in an attempt to separate the genetic and environmental factors that shape egg chorion morphology in Ramazzottius subanomalus (Biserov, 1985). Our integrative study, based on a population of R. subanomalus isolated from a single moss sample, revealed (1) remarkable variation in egg shell morphology, but (2) relatively little variation in animal morphometric traits, and (3) genetic differentiation, expressed as two ITS-2 haplotypes, but no parallel polymorphism in COI. Although animals did not differ morphometrically between the haplotypes, eggs laid by haplotype 1 and 2 females exhibited highly statistically significant differences in all measured traits. The study demonstrates, for the first time, a correlation between phenotypic and genetic variability within a tardigrade species. The revealed congruence between genetic and morphological traits might be viewed as an example of incipient speciation that illustrates early evolutionary steps leading to species complexes that differ primarily in terms of egg shell morphology. Moreover, our data confirm the value of the ITS-2 fragment in distinguishing very closely related tardigrade lineages.



Tardigrada, asexual reproduction, barcoding, chorion, Eutardigrada, incipient speciation, morphometry, parthenogenesis

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ISSN 1175-5326 (Print Edition) & ISSN 1175-5334 (Online Edition)
Published by Magnolia Press, Auckland, New Zealand
A founding journal of Biotaxa