Background: Annelida is one of the major protostome phyla, whose deep phylogeny is very poorly understood. Recent molecular phylogenies show that Annelida may include groups once considered separate phyla (Pogonophora, Echiurida, and Sipunculida) and that Clitellata are derived polychaetes. The "total-evidence" analyses combining morphological and molecular characters have been published for a few annelid taxa. No attempt has yet been made to analyse simultaneously morphological and molecular information concerning the Annelida as a whole.
Results: Phylogenetic relationships within Annelida were analysed on the basis of 93 morphological characters and sequences of six genes (18S, 28S, and 16S rRNA, EF1 alpha, H3, COI), altogether, 87 terminals of all annelid "families" and 3,903 informative characters, by Bayesian and maximum-parsimony methods. The analysis of the combined dataset yields the following scheme of relationships: Phyllodocida and Eunicida are monophyletic groups, together probably forming monophyletic Aciculata (incl. Orbiniidae and Parergodrilidae that form a sister group of the Eunicida). The traditional "Scolecida" and "Canalipalpata" are both polyphyletic, forming instead two clades: one including Cirratuliformia and the "sabelloid-spionoid clade" (incl. Sternaspis, Sabellidae-Serpulidae, Sabellariidae, Spionida s. str.), the other ("terebelloid-capitelloid clade") including Terebelliformia, Arenicolidae-Maldanidae, and Capitellidae-Echiurida. The Clitellata and "clitellate-like polychaetes" (Aeolosomatidae, Potamodrilidae, Hrabeiella) form a monophyletic group. The position of the remaining annelid groups is uncertain - the most problematic taxa are the Opheliidae-Scalibregmatidae clade, the Amphinomida-Aberranta clade, Apistobranchus, Chaetopteridae, Myzostomida, the Sipunculida-Dinophilidae clade, and the "core Archiannelida" (= Protodrilidae, Nerillidae, Polygordiidae, Saccocirridae).
Conclusion: The combined ("total-evidence") phylogenetic analysis provides a modified view of annelid evolution, with several higher-level taxa, i.e. Phyllodocida, Eunicida, orbinioid-parergodrilid clade (OPC), Cirratuliformia, sabelloid-spionoid clade (SSC), terebelloid-capitelloid clade (TCC), and "Clitellatomorpha". Two unorthodox clades, the "core Archiannelida" and Sipunculida-Dinophilidae, are proposed. Although the deep-level evolutionary relationships of Annelida remain poorly understood, we propose the monophyly of the Aciculata, sister-group relationships between the Eunicida and OPC, between the Cirratuliformia and SSC, and possibly also between the "Clitellatomorpha" and Oweniidae-Pogonophora clades.