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Species delimitation and phylogeny in the genus Nasutitermes (Termitidae: Nasutitermitinae) in French Guiana



Species delimitation and identification can be arduous for taxa whose morphologic characters are easily confused, which can hamper global biodiversity assessments and pest species management. Exploratory methods of species delimitation that use DNA sequence as their primary information source to establish group membership and estimate putative species boundaries are useful approaches, complementary to traditional taxonomy. Termites of the genus Nasutitermes make interesting models for the application of such methods. They are dominant in Neotropical primary forests but also represent major agricultural and structural pests. Despite the prevalence, pivotal ecological role and economical impact of this group, the taxonomy of Nasutitermes species mainly depends on unreliable characters of soldier external morphology. Here, we generated robust species hypotheses for 79 Nasutitermes colonies sampled throughout French Guiana without any a priori knowledge of species affiliation. Sequence analysis of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase II gene was coupled with exploratory species-delimitation tools, using the automatic barcode gap discovery method (ABGD) and a generalized mixed Yule-coalescent model (GMYC) to propose primary species hypotheses (PSHs). PSHs were revaluated using phylogenetic analyses of two more loci (mitochondrial 16S rDNA and nuclear internal transcribed spacer 2) leading to 16 retained secondary species hypotheses (RSSH). Seven RSSHs, represented by 44/79 of the sampled colonies, were morphologically affiliated to species recognized as pests in the Neotropics, where they represent a real invasive pest potential in the context of growing ecosystem anthropization. Multigenic phylogenies based on combined alignments (1426–1784 bp) were also reconstructed to identify ancestral ecological niches and major-pest lineages, revealing that Guyanese pest species do not form monophyletic groups.