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A “complex” problem: delimiting sibling species boundaries in black flies (Diptera: Simuliidae)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2012

Ida M. Conflitti
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B2, Canada; and Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C6, Canada
Gerald F. Shields
Department of Natural Sciences, Carroll College, Helena, Montana 59601, United States of America
Douglas C. Currie*
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B2, Canada; and Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C6, Canada
1Corresponding author. Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C6, Canada (e-mail:


Rapid and recent lineage radiations pose challenges to systematists. Using members of the highly diverse Simulium arcticum Malloch complex, we tested whether the cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) barcoding gene can differentiate black fly sibling species. Members of the S. arcticum complex were monophyletic in relation to two morphospecies and two cryptic species of the Simulium malyschevi Dorogostaisky et al. and Simulium noelleri Friederichs species-groups, respectively. Of five S. arcticum sibling species analysed, only Simulium negativum Adler et al. was monophyletic. No other members of the complex could be distinguished using COI barcodes. The inability to resolve S. arcticum sibling species resulted because (1) haplotypes were shared between species and (2) the distribution of interspecific genetic distances completely overlapped the range of variation within species. Potential sources of incongruence between barcode data and species boundaries include imperfect taxonomy, inadequate genetic information, incomplete lineage sorting, and/or introgressive hybridization. We ruled out imperfect taxonomy because chromosomal, ecological, and distributional evidence support the validity of S. arcticum sibling species. Therefore, current nomenclature should be maintained pending further study. We conclude that one or more of the latter three sources of incongruence could be responsible for the lack of reciprocal monophyly among species of the S. arcticum complex.


Les radiations rapides et récentes des lignées évolutives posent des défis aux systématiciens. En utilisant des membres du très divers complexe d'espèces Simulium arcticum Malloch, nous avons testé si le gène code-barre de la sous-unité cytochrome c oxydase I (COI) peut différencier entre espèces jumelles de mouches noires. Les membres du complexe S. arcticum sont monophylétiques par rapport à deux espèces morphologiques du groupe Simulium malyschevi Dorogostaisky et al. et deux espèces cryptiques de Simulium noelleri Friederichs. Parmi les cinq espèces analysées au sein du complexe S. arcticum, seul Simulium negativum Adler et al. est monophylétique. Aucun des autres membres du complexe ne peut être distingué par le code-barre COI. L'incapacité de différencier entre espèces jumelles du complexe S. arcticum provient (1) d'un partage d'haplotypes entre espèces et (2) du chevauchement entre les distributions des distances génétiques inter- et intraspécifiques. Les sources potentielles d'incongruité entre les données des codes-barres et la circonscription des espèces peuvent provenir d'une taxonomie imparfaite, d'une insuffisance d'information génétique, d'une séparation incomplète des lignées, et/ou d'introgression par hybridation. Nous écartons la possibilité d'une taxonomie imparfaite parce que des preuves chromosomiques, écologiques et géographiques soutiennent la validité des espèces reconnues au sein du complexe S. arcticum. Par conséquent, la nomenclature actuelle doit être maintenue en attendant une étude plus approfondie. Nous concluons qu'une ou plusieurs des trois autres sources d'incongruité pourrait être responsable de l'absence de monophylie réciproque entre espèces du complexe S. arcticum.

Original Article
Copyright © Entomological Society of Canada 2012 

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