Combining morphological and genomic evidence to resolve species diversity and study speciation processes of the Pallenopsis patagonica (Pycnogonida) species complex

Background: Pallenopsis patagonica (Hoek, 1881) is a morphologically and genetically variable sea spider species whose taxonomic classification is challenging. Currently, it is considered as a species complex including several genetic lineages, many of which have not been formally described as species. Members of this species complex occur on the Patagonian and Antarctic continental shelves as well as around sub-Antarctic islands. These habitats have been strongly influenced by historical large-scale glaciations and previous studies suggested that communities were limited to very few refugia during glacial maxima. Therefore, allopatric speciation in these independent refugia is regarded as a common mechanism leading to high biodiversity of marine benthic taxa in the high-latitude Southern Hemisphere. However, other mechanisms such as ecological speciation have rarely been considered or tested. Therefore, we conducted an integrative morphological and genetic study on the P. patagonica species complex to i) resolve species diversity using a target hybrid enrichment approach to obtain multiple genomic markers, ii) find morphological characters and analyze morphometric measurements to distinguish species, and iii) investigate the speciation processes that led to multiple lineages within the species complex.

Results: Phylogenomic results support most of the previously reported lineages within the P. patagonica species complex and morphological data show that several lineages are distinct species with diagnostic characters. Two lineages are proposed as new species, P. aulaeturcarum sp. nov. Dömel & Melzer, 2019 and P. obstaculumsuperavit sp. nov. Dömel, 2019, respectively. However, not all lineages could be distinguished morphologically and thus likely represent cryptic species that can only be identified with genetic tools. Further, morphometric data of 135 measurements showed a high amount of variability within and between species without clear support of adaptive divergence in sympatry.

Conclusions: We generated an unprecedented molecular data set for members of the P. patagonica sea spider species complex with a target hybrid enrichment approach, which we combined with extensive morphological and morphometric analyses to investigate the taxonomy, phylogeny and biogeography of this group. The extensive data set enabled us to delineate species boundaries, on the basis of which we formally described two new species. No consistent evidence for positive selection was found, rendering speciation in allopatric glacial refugia as the most likely model of speciation.


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