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Cosmopolitan versus cryptic meiofaunal polychaete species: an approach to a molecular taxonomy


Polychaete taxonomy is characterised by a high number of apparently cosmopolitan species. Detection of subtle but diagnostic ultrastructural differences and – in recent years – investigations at the molecular level have revealed that many of these "species" are actually complexes of morphologically identical or almost identical cryptic species. To disregard their existence would lead to an underestimation of global meiofauna diversity and undermine the value of many scientific studies. Therefore, we strongly recommend that they be given formal taxonomic recognition, beyond their published presentation as "operational taxonomic units", "types" or by alphabetic or numerical designators. Since there are neither generally accepted practical procedures nor any established consensus regarding the application of genetic data in taxonomy, we here provide examples of, and suggestions for, the treatment of meiofaunal species that are distinguished exclusively by molecular data, e.g. by genetic distance values, cluster analyses, diagnostic (= autapomorphic) DNA fragments from DNA fingerprinting procedures (RAPD) and/or DNA sequence differences (e.g. of ITS 2). Although no holotype material may be available because the molecular procedures require the preparation of entire specimens, practical taxonomic problems can be overcome and the recommendations of the Zoological Code of Nomenclature satisfied, by adopting the following procedures: (1) deposition of band-patterns of an individual obtained with the primers used to find diagnostic markers; (2) deposition of DNA in ethanol of one syntype individual; (3) deposition of fixed specimens (syntypes) from the locus typicus.

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Westheide, .W., Schmidt, .H. Cosmopolitan versus cryptic meiofaunal polychaete species: an approach to a molecular taxonomy. Helgol Mar Res 57, 1–6 (2003).

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  • Meiofauna Polychaeta Cosmopolitanism RAPD ITS 2