The taxonomic relationship between two toothed South African river crabs, Potamonautes warreni and P. unispinus, is unclear. The problem stems from the widespread variation in carapace dentition patterns amongst P. warreni individuals over its biogeographic range, where single toothed individuals may appear similar in carapace morphology to P. unispinus. Ten populations of P. warreni and 18 populations of P. unispinus were collected and the morphometric and genetic differentiation between the two taxa quantified. Patterns of morphometric and genetic variation were examined using multivariate statistics and protein gel electrophoresis, respectively. Principal component analyses of carapace characters showed that the two species are morphologically indistinguishable. However, discriminate functions analyses and additional statistical results corroborate the morphological distinction between the two taxa. Allozyme electrophoresis of 17 protein coding loci, indicated a close genetic similarity between the two species (I = 0.92). A fixed allelic difference at one locus (LT-2) and extensive genetic variability at another locus (PGM-1) indicate that two gene pools are present and that the two taxa are genetically isolated. Intraspecific genetic I values for both species were >0.97 and indicated no apparent genetic structuring on a micro or macro-geographic scale. The variation in carapace dentition among P. warreni populations possesses no genetic basis and may possibly be the product of ecogenesis. The value of dentition patterns in the systematics of river crabs is discussed. Dentition patterns among river crab species appear to be conserved and reliable as species specific diagnostic markers, but should ideally be used in combination with other morphological data sets and genetic evidence.
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