Taking the discovery approach in integrative taxonomy: decrypting a complex of narrow-endemic Alpine harvestmen (Opiliones: Phalangiidae: Megabunus)

Mol Ecol. 2015 Feb;24(4):863-89. doi: 10.1111/mec.13077. Epub 2015 Feb 4.


Species delimitation is fundamental for biological studies, yet precise delimitation is not an easy task, and every involved approach has an inherent failure rate. Integrative taxonomy, a method that merges multiple lines of evidence, can profoundly contribute to reliable alpha-taxonomy and shed light on the processes behind speciation. In this study, we explored and validated species limits in a group of closely related Megabunus harvestmen (Eupnoi, Phalangiidae) endemic to the European Alps. Without a priori species hypotheses, we used multiple sources of inference, including mitochondrial and multilocus nuclear DNA, morphometrics and chemistry. The results of these discovery approaches revealed morphological crypsis and multiple new species within two of the five hitherto known species. Based on our analyses, we discussed the most plausible evolutionary scenarios, invoked the most reasonable species hypotheses and validated the new species limits. Building upon the achieved rigour, three new species, Megabunus cryptobergomas Muster and Wachter sp. nov., Megabunus coelodonta Muster and Steiner sp. nov., and Megabunus lentipes Muster and Komposch sp. nov., are formally described. In addition, we provide a dichotomous morphological key to the Megabunus species of the Alps. Our work demonstrates the suitability of integrative, discovery-based approaches in combination with validation approaches to precisely characterize species and enabled us to implement nomenclatural consequences for this genus.

Keywords: Arachnida; cuticular hydrocarbons; morphometrics; multilocus phylogeny; species delimitation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachnida / classification*
  • Arachnida / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Male
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA, Mitochondrial