The Thecostraca are arguably the most morphologically and biologically variable group within the Crustacea, including both suspension feeders (Cirripedia: Thoracica and Acrothoracica) and parasitic forms (Cirripedia: Rhizocephala, Ascothoracida and Facetotecta). Similarities between the metamorphosis found in the Facetotecta and Rhizocephala suggests a common evolutionary origin, but until now no comprehensive study has looked at the basic evolution of these thecostracan groups.
To this end, we collected DNA sequences from three nuclear genes [18S rRNA (2,305), 28S rRNA (2,402), Histone H3 (328)] and 41 larval characters in seven facetotectans, five ascothoracidans, three acrothoracicans, 25 rhizocephalans and 39 thoracicans (ingroup) and 12 Malacostraca and 10 Copepoda (outgroup). Maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian analyses showed the Facetotecta, Ascothoracida and Cirripedia each as monophyletic. The better resolved and highly supported DNA maximum likelihood and morphological-DNA Bayesian analysis trees depicted the main phylogenetic relationships within the Thecostraca as (Facetotecta, (Ascothoracida, (Acrothoracica, (Rhizocephala, Thoracica)))).
Our analyses indicate a convergent evolution of the very similar and highly reduced slug-shaped stages found during metamorphosis of both the Rhizocephala and the Facetotecta. This provides a remarkable case of convergent evolution and implies that the advanced endoparasitic mode of life known from the Rhizocephala and strongly indicated for the Facetotecta had no common origin. Future analyses are needed to determine whether the most recent common ancestor of the Thecostraca was free-living or some primitive form of ectoparasite.