A revision of the Pyura stolonifera species complex (Tunicata, Ascidiacea), with a description of a new species from Australia

12 December 2011

Pyura stolonifera is a large solitary ascidian found in Africa, Australasia and South America. The taxonomic status of different populations of this species is disputed, especially since there is evidence for several distinct morphological and genetic units that point towards the existence of multiple cryptic species. While some researchers still recognize P. stolonifera as a single species, others treat the different populations as distinct species. Here, we present a revision of the P. stolonifera species complex based on the examination of samples from all regions where there are reliable reports of this taxon. We recognize four species that are both morphologically and genetically distinct, one of which is new to science and is formally described here. This species is morphologically distinct from the other three members of the species complex in terms of the colour and texture of the tunic, the arrangement of the gonads within the gut and the shape of the dorsal tubercle, among other characters. We name the new species Pyura dalbyi after Dr. J.E. Dalby Jr., whose research on its ecology and distribution provided the incentive for examining this species more closely.