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Collembola, the biological species concept and the underestimation of global species richness


  • Francesco Cicconardi,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Physics, University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy
    2. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado, Panamá, República de Panamá
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  • Pietro P. Fanciulli,

    1. Department of Life Sciences, University of Siena, Siena, Italy
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  • Brent C. Emerson

    1. Island Ecology and Evolution Research Group, IPNA-CSIC, La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
    2. School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
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Despite its ancient origin, global distribution and abundance in nearly all habitats, the class Collembola is comprised of only 8000 described species and is estimated to number no more than 50 000. Many morphologically defined species have broad geographical ranges that span continents, and recent molecular work has revealed high genetic diversity within species. However, the evolutionary significance of this genetic diversity is unknown. In this study, we sample five morphological species of the globally distributed genus Lepidocyrtus from 14 Panamanian sampling sites to characterize genetic diversity and test morphospecies against the biological species concept. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data were analysed and a total of 58 molecular lineages revealed. Deep lineage diversification was recovered, with 30 molecular lineages estimated to have established more than 10 million years ago, and the origin almost all contemporary lineages preceding the onset of the Pleistocene (~2 Mya). Thirty-four lineages were sampled in sympatry revealing unambiguous cosegregation of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence variation, consistent with biological species. Species richness within the class Collembola and the geographical structure of this diversity are substantially misrepresented components of terrestrial animal biodiversity. We speculate that global species richness of Collembola could be at least an order of magnitude greater than a previous estimate of 50 000 species.

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