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Species limits in molecular phylogenies: a cautionary tale from Australian land snails (Camaenidae: Amplirhagada Iredale, 1933)




By complementing two independent systematic studies published recently on the Western Australian land snail Amplirhagada, we compare levels of morphological variation in shells and genitalia with those in the mitochondrial markers cytochrome c oxidase (COI) and 16S to evaluate the utility of mtDNA markers for delimiting species. We found that penial morphology and mitochondrial divergence are generally highly consistent in delimiting species, while shells have little overall taxonomic utility in these snails. In addition to this qualitative correspondence, there is almost no overlap between intraspecific and interspecific genetic distances in COI, with the highest intraspecific and lowest interspecific distance being 6%. This value is twice the general level suggested as a DNA barcode threshold by some authors and higher than the best average found in stylommatophoran land snails. Although in Amplirhagada land snails DNA barcoding may provide meaningful information as a first-pass approach towards species delimitation, we argue that this is due only to specific evolutionary circumstances that facilitated a long-termed separate evolution of mitochondrial lineages along spatial patterns. However, because in general the amounts of morphological and mitochondrial differentiation of species depend on their evolutionary history and age, the mode of speciation, distributional patterns and ecological adaptations, and absence or presence of mechanisms that prevent gene flow across species limits, the applicability of DNA barcoding has to be confirmed by morphological studies for each single group anew. Based on evidence from both molecular and morphological markers, we describe six new species from the Bonaparte Archipelago and revise the taxonomy of a further two.

© 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 165, 337–362.