Previous taxonomic treatments of the family Zosteraceae in Australia/New Zealand have recognized Heterozostera tasmanica (monotypic) and four Zostera species all belonging to subgenus Zosterella: Z. capricorni, Z. muelleri, Z. mucronata, Z. novazelandica. Zostera has always been taxonomically problematic in Australia, where researchers have expressed difficulty with species recognition due to vague or inconsistent morphological characters. There also has been a lack of agreement on generic (notably the distinctness of Heterozostera) and subgeneric delimitation. Recent anatomical, developmental, and molecular studies urge a reevaluation of relationships in the family. To clarify the taxonomy of Zosteraceae, we investigated interspecific phylogenetic relationships focusing on Australian species of subgenus Zosterella. We examined material comprising all genera of Zosteraceae (Heterozostera, Nanozostera, Phyllospadix, Zostera), six/seven species of Zostera subgenus Zosterella (including all Australian/New Zealand species), and one of four species of Zostera subgenus Zostera. We conducted phylogenetic analyses of morphological data and DNA sequences from nuclear (ITS) and plastid (trnK intron, rbcL) genomes. Our results indicate two major clades (highly divergent at both morphological and molecular levels) and two subclades (with low morphological and molecular divergence) within Zosteraceae. Little morphological and molecular variation was observed among representatives within the clade of Australian/New Zealand members of subgenus Zosterella, and none provided cladistic support for taxa recognized formerly as separate species. We recommend that Zosteraceae comprise two genera (Phyllospadix, Zostera) with the latter subdivided into three subgenera (Zostera, Zosterella, Heterozostera). Furthermore, Australian/New Zealand representatives of Zostera subgenus Zosterella should be merged within a single species (Z. capricorni) to reflect the inability of morphological or molecular data to effectively delimit additional species in this group.
Communicating Editor: Jeff H. Rettig