Morphological characters of statoblasts (including floatoblasts and sessoblasts) in freshwater bryozoans have been important in phylactolaemate systematics and identification in that older phylogenetic hypotheses relied heavily on statoblast morphology. To assess the reliability of statoblast characters in drawing conclusions about phylogeny, we examined the phylogenetic distribution of metric and proportional floatoblast characters, floatoblast symmetry, and floatoblast and sessoblast microsculpture in Plumatellidae, the largest family of phylactolaemates, in the context of molecular phylogenetic reconstructions based on nucleotide sequences of parts of the mitochondrial 12S rRNA, 16S rRNA, and cytochrome b (cytb) genes. Adding cytb sequences to a previous phylogeny based on 12S and 16S increased support only for a node including Plumatella vaihiriae in the P. repens clade. Characters of gross floatoblast morphology were generally not phylogenetically informative individually, but collectively discriminated among members of three relatively well-supported clades that were analyzed as pre-defined groups in a discriminant analysis. Two characters of floatoblast microsculpture (reticulation and hypertubercles) were restricted to particular clades; other characters (e.g., villi) were clearly convergent. In nine of 11 cases, fenestral microsculpture was identical or partly correlated between the floatoblast and sessoblast of a species. Overall, our results indicate that statoblast morphology is not highly phylogenetically constrained.
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