Bentlage, Bastian, Osborn, Karen J., Lindsay, Dhugal J., Hopcroft, Russell R., Raskoff, Kevin A. and Collins, Allen G.
Loss or stark reduction of the free-swimming medusa or jellyfish stage is common in the cnidarian class Hydrozoa. In the hydrozoan clade Trachylina, however, many species do not possess a sessile polyp or hydroid stage. Trachylines inhabiting freshwater and coastal ecosystems (i.e., Limnomedusae) possess a metagenetic life cycle involving benthic, sessile polyp and free-swimming medusa. In contrast, the paradigm is that open ocean inhabiting, oceanic trachylines (in the orders Narcomedusae and Trachymedusae) develop from zygote to medusa via a free-swimming larva, forgoing the polyp stage. In some open ocean trachylines, development includes a sessile stage that is an ecto- or endoparasite of other oceanic organisms. We expand the molecular-based phylogenetic hypothesis of trachylines significantly, increasing taxon and molecular marker sampling. Using this comprehensive phylogenetic hypothesis in conjunction with character state reconstructions we enhance understanding of the evolution of life cycles in trachyline hydrozoans. We find that the polyp stage was lost at least twice independently, concurrent with a transition to an oceanic life style. Further, a sessile, polypoid parasitic stage arose once, rather than twice as current classification would imply, in the open ocean inhabiting Narcomedusae. Our results also support the hypothesis that interstitial species of the order Actinulida are directly descended from direct developing, oceanic trachylines.