DNA barcodes for species identification in the hyperdiverse ant genus Pheidole (Formicidae: Myrmicinae).

Research paper by R N RN Ng'endo, Z B ZB Osiemo, R R Brandl

Indexed on: 02 Aug '13Published on: 02 Aug '13Published in: Journal of insect science (Online)


DNA sequencing is increasingly being used to assist in species identification in order to overcome taxonomic impediment. However, few studies attempt to compare the results of these molecular studies with a more traditional species delineation approach based on morphological characters. Mitochondrial DNA Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (CO1) gene was sequenced, measuring 636 base pairs, from 47 ants of the genus Pheidole (Formicidae: Myrmicinae) collected in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest to test whether the morphology-based assignment of individuals into species is supported by DNA-based species delimitation. Twenty morphospecies were identified, whereas the barcoding analysis identified 19 Molecular Operational Taxonomic Units (MOTUs). Fifteen out of the 19 DNA-based clusters allocated, using sequence divergence thresholds of 2% and 3%, matched with morphospecies. Both thresholds yielded the same number of MOTUs. Only one MOTU was successfully identified to species level using the CO1 sequences of Pheidole species already in the Genbank. The average pairwise sequence divergence for all 47 sequences was 19%, ranging between 0-25%. In some cases, however, morphology and molecular based methods differed in their assignment of individuals to morphospecies or MOTUs. The occurrence of distinct mitochondrial lineages within morphological species highlights groups for further detailed genetic and morphological studies, and therefore a pluralistic approach using several methods to understand the taxonomy of difficult lineages is advocated.