Robust Support for Tardigrade Clades and Their Ages From Three Protein-Coding Nuclear Genes

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Coding sequences (5,334 nt total) from elongation factor-1α, elongation factor-2, and the largest subunit of RNA polymerase II were determined for 6 species of Tardigrada, 2 of Arthropoda, and 2 of Onychophora. Parsimony and likelihood analyses of nucleotides and amino acids yielded strong support for Tardigrada and all internal nodes (i.e., 100% bootstrap support for Tardigrada, Eutardigrada, Parachela, Hypsibiidae, and Macrobiotidae). Results are in agreement with morphology and an earlier molecular study based on analysis of 18S ribosomal sequences. Divergence times have been estimated from amino acid sequence data using an empirical Bayesian statistical approach, which does not assume a strict molecular clock. Divergence time estimates are pre-Vendian for Tardigrada/Arthropoda, Vendian or earlier for Eutardigrada/Heterotardigrada, Silurian to Ordovician for Parachela/Apochela, Permian to Carboniferous for Hypsibiidae and Macrobiotidae, and Mesozoic for Isohypsibius/Thulinia (both within Hypsibiidae) and Macrobiotus/Richtersius (both within Macrobiotidae).