A global metabarcoding analysis expands molecular diversity of Platyhelminthes and reveals novel early-branching clades.
Understanding biological diversity is crucial for ecological and evolutionary studies. Even though a great part of animal diversity has already been documented, both morphological surveys and metabarcoding analyses have previously shown that some animal groups, such as Platyhelminthes, may harbour hidden diversity. To better understand the molecular diversity of Platyhelminthes, one of the most diverse and biomedically important animal phyla, we here combined data from six marine and two freshwater metabarcoding expeditions that cover a broad variety of aquatic habitats and analysed the data by phylogenetic placement. Our results show that a great part of the hidden diversity is located in early-branching clades such as Catenulida and Macrostomorpha, as well as in late-diverging clades such as Proseriata and Rhabdocoela. We also report the first freshwater record of Gnosonesimida, a group previously thought to be exclusively marine. Finally, we identified two putative novel freshwater Platyhelminthes clades that branch between well-defined orders of the phylum. Thus, our analyses of several environmental datasets confirm that a large part of the diversity of Platyhelminthes remains undiscovered, point to groups with more potential novel species and identify freshwater environments as potential reservoirs for novel species of flatworms.