Flexible colour patterns obscure identification and mimicry in Indo-Pacific Chromodoris nudibranchs (Gastropoda: Chromodorididae)

Kara K.S. Layton* (Corresponding Author), Terrence M. Gosliner, Nerida G. Wilson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Chromodoris is a genus of colourful nudibranchs that feed on sponges and is found across the Indo-Pacific. While this was once the most diverse chromodorid genus, recent work has shown that the genus should be restricted to a monophyletic lineage that contains only 22 species, all of which exhibit black pigmentation and planar spawning behaviour. Earlier phylogenies of this group are poorly resolved and thus additional work is needed to clarify species boundaries within Chromodoris. This study presents a maximum-likelihood phylogeny based on mitochondrial loci (COI, 16S) for 345 Chromodoris specimens, including data from 323 new specimens and 22 from GenBank, from across the Indo-Pacific. Species hypotheses and phylogenetic analysis uncovered 39 taxa in total containing 18 undescribed species, with only five of 39 taxa showing stable colour patterns and distinct morphotypes. This study also presents the first evidence for regional mimicry in this genus, with C. colemani and C. joshi displaying geographically-based variation in colour patterns which appear to match locally abundant congenerics, highlighting the flexibility of these colour patterns in Chromodoris nudibranchs. The current phylogeny contains short branch lengths, polytomies and poor support at interior nodes, which is indicative of a recent radiation. As such, future work will employ a transcriptome-based exon capture approach for resolving the phylogeny of this group. In all, this study included 21 of the 22 described species in the Chromodoris sensu stricto group with broad sampling coverage from across the Indo-Pacific, constituting the most comprehensive sampling of this group to date. This work highlights several cases of undocumented diversity, ultimately expanding our knowledge of species boundaries in this group, while also demonstrating the limitations of colour patterns for species identification in this genus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-36
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Early online date21 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2018


  • Chromodoris
  • Species delimitation
  • Phylogeny
  • Cryptic diversity
  • radiation
  • Mimicry


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