Biol Lett. 2023 Jan;19(1):20220497. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2022.0497. Epub 2023 Jan 11.
Panarthropoda, the clade comprising the phyla Onychophora, Tardigrada and Euarthropoda, encompasses the largest majority of animal biodiversity. The relationships among the phyla are contested and resolution is key to understanding the evolutionary assembly of panarthropod bodyplans. Molecular phylogenetic analyses generally support monophyly of Onychophora and Euarthropoda to the exclusion of Tardigrada (Lobopodia hypothesis), which is also supported by some analyses of morphological data. However, analyses of morphological data have also been interpreted to support monophyly of Tardigrada and Euarthropoda to the exclusion of Onychophora (Tactopoda hypothesis). Support has also been found for a clade of Onychophora and Tardigrada that excludes Euarthropoda (Protarthropoda hypothesis). Here we show, using a diversity of phylogenetic inference methods, that morphological datasets cannot discriminate statistically between the Lobopodia, Tactopoda and Protarthropoda hypotheses. Since the relationships among the living clades of panarthropod phyla cannot be discriminated based on morphological data, we call into question the accuracy of morphology-based phylogenies of Panarthropoda that include fossil species and the evolutionary hypotheses based upon them.