An analysis of species boundaries and biogeographic patterns in a cryptic species complex: The rotifer-Brachionus plicatilis

Elizabeth Suatoni, Saverio Vicario, Sean Rice, Terry Snell, Adalgisa Caccone

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153 Scopus citations


Since the advent of molecular phylogenetics, there is increasing evidence that many small aquatic and marine invertebrates-once believed to be single, cosmopolitan species-are in fact cryptic species complexes. Although the application of the biological species concept is central to the identification of species boundaries in these cryptic complexes, tests of reproductive isolation do not frequently accompany phylogenetic studies. Because different species concepts generally identify different boundaries in cryptic complexes, studies that apply multiple species concepts are needed to gain a more detailed understanding of patterns of diversification in these taxa. Here we explore different methods of empirically delimiting species boundaries in the salt water rotifer Brachionus plicatilis by comparing reproductive data (i.e., the traditional biological species concept) to phylogenetic data (the genealogical species concept). Based on a high degree of molecular sequence divergence and largely concordant genetic patterns in COI and ITS1, the genealogical species hypothesis indicates the existence of at least 14 species-the highest estimate for the group thus far. A test of the genealogical species concept with biological crosses shows a fairly high level of concordance, depending on the degree of reproductive success used to draw boundaries. The convergence of species concepts in this group suggests that many of the species within the group may be old. Although the diversity of the group is higher than previously understood, geographic distributions remain broad. Efficient passive dispersal has resulted in global distributions for many species with some evidence of isolation by distance over large geographic scales. These patterns concur with expectations that micro-meiofauna (0.1-1 mm) have biogeographies intermediate to microbial organisms and large vertebrates. Sympatry of genetically distant strains is common.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Brachionus
  • COI
  • Cryptic species
  • ITS1
  • Reproductive isolation
  • Rotifera
  • Zooplankton


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