Cryptic Species or Inadequate Taxonomy? Implementation of 2D Geometric Morphometrics Based on Integumental Organs as Landmarks for Delimitation and Description of Copepod Taxa

Syst Biol. 2016 Mar;65(2):304-27. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syv088. Epub 2015 Nov 24.


Discovery of cryptic species using molecular tools has become common in many animal groups but it is rarely accompanied by morphological revision, creating ongoing problems in taxonomy and conservation. In copepods, cryptic species have been discovered in most groups where fast-evolving molecular markers were employed. In this study at Yeelirrie in Western Australia we investigate a subterranean species complex belonging to the harpacticoid genus Schizopera Sars, 1905, using both the barcoding mitochondrial COI gene and landmark-based two-dimensional geometric morphometrics. Integumental organs (sensilla and pores) are used as landmarks for the first time in any crustacean group. Complete congruence between DNA-based species delimitation and relative position of integumental organs in two independent morphological structures suggests the existence of three distinct evolutionary units. We describe two of them as new species, employing a condensed taxonomic format appropriate for cryptic species. We argue that many supposedly cryptic species might not be cryptic if researchers focus on analyzing morphological structures with multivariate tools that explicitly take into account geometry of the phenotype. A perceived supremacy of molecular methods in detecting cryptic species is in our view a consequence of disparity of investment and unexploited recent advancements in morphometrics among taxonomists. Our study shows that morphometric data alone could be used to find diagnostic morphological traits and gives hope to anyone studying small animals with a hard integument or shell, especially opening the door to assessing fossil diversity and rich museum collections. We expect that simultaneous use of molecular tools with geometry-oriented morphometrics may yield faster formal description of species. Decrypted species in this study are a good example for urgency of formal descriptions, as they display short-range endemism in small groundwater calcrete aquifers in a paleochannel, where their conservation may be threatened by proposed mining.

Keywords: Barcoding; cuticular pore; integrative taxonomy; sensillum; speciation; stygofauna.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Classification / methods*
  • Copepoda / anatomy & histology*
  • Copepoda / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • Species Specificity
  • Western Australia


  • Electron Transport Complex IV