My Quest for Molluscan Phylogeny and Evolution

Date:Oct 27, 2023    |  【 A  A  A 】

(Text by SONG Hao,

Hao is recording morphological characteristics of sea snails. Credit: Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Science

As a molluscan biologist at IOCAS, I believe that biodiversity research is essential to all aspects of the biological sciences, as understanding the diversity of life on Earth underpins our knowledge about organismal biology. Likewise, phylogenetics provides an indispensable framework for comparative biology across disciplines. My research focuses on harnessing phylogenetic approaches to elucidate the evolutionary history and relationships of molluscs, which make up the second largest animal phylum with over 100,000 described species.

Molluscs display a spectacular diversity of forms and lifestyles, from well-known representatives such as the gastropods (snails, slugs), bivalves (clams, mussels), and cephalopods (nautiluses, squids, octopuses), to more enigmatic groups such as spicule-bearing, simple worms (the aplacophorans), flattened, ovoid, shell plate-bearing polyplacophorans (chitons), circular monoplacophorans with a single, cap-like shell, and the scaphopods (tusk shells), that owe their name to their bent, elephant tooth-like shell in which the animal resides, yet their origins and evolutionary pathways remain poorly resolved. My work involves reconstructing the molluscan tree of life using genomic and morphological data. I utilize phylogenomic methods and fossil calibrations to date key divergence events and uncover the patterns and processes underlying molluscan evolution over hundreds of millions of years.

Using phylogenomics and comparative-genomics, some key questions I aim to address include: When did the major molluscan groups split off from each other? How did their unique body plans, such as the shell, mantle, and radula, evolve? What environmental factors drove periods of rapid diversification? Unraveling molluscan phylogeny provides insights into the emergence of key innovations, instances of convergent evolution, and the influence of mass extinctions on their evolutionary trajectory.

My research has implications for conservation efforts by furthering our understanding of molluscan diversity. More broadly, elucidating molluscan phylogeny enables me to reconstruct the origins and evolutionary pathways of molluscs, one of the most ubiquitous and familiar animal groups.

Although molluscs have traveled a long and winding evolutionary road over hundreds of millions of years, I am excited to be part of the journey to unravel their relationships and history. My ultimate goal is to build a robust framework for understanding molluscan diversity that integrates phylogenetic knowledge with insights from genomics, development, paleontology, and more.

(Editor: ZHANG Yiyi)

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