Taxonomist's Nightmare … Evolutionist's Delight : An Integrative Approach Resolves Species Limits in Jumping Bristletails Despite Widespread Hybridization and Parthenogenesis

Syst Biol. 2016 Nov;65(6):947-974. doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syw003. Epub 2016 Feb 11.


Accurate species delimitation is fundamental to biology. Traditionally, species were delimited based on morphological characters, sometimes leading to taxonomic uncertainty in morphologically conserved taxa. Recently, multiple taxonomically challenging cases have benefited from integrative taxonomy-an approach that highlights congruence among different disciplines and invokes evolutionary explanations for incongruence, acknowledging that different methods can mirror different stages of the speciation continuum. Here, we used a cohesive protocol for integrative taxonomy to revise species limits in 20 nominal species and 4 morphospecies of an ancestrally wingless insect group, the jumping bristletail genus Machilis from the European Eastern Alps. Even though morphologically conserved, several small-scale endemic species have been described from the Eastern Alps based on variation in hypodermal pigmentation patterns-a highly questionable character. As valuable as these endemics are for conservation, they have never been verified by alternative methods. Using traditional morphometrics, mitochondrial DNA, ribosomal DNA, and amplified fragment-length polymorphism markers, we identify six nominal species as taxonomic junior synonyms (Machilis alpicola Janetschek, 1953 syn. n. under M. vagans Wygodzinsky, 1941; M. ladensis Janetschek, 1950 syn. n., M. robusta Wygodzinsky, 1941 syn. n., and M. vicina Wygodzinsky, 1941 syn. n. under M. inermis Wygodzinsky, 1941; M. aleamaculata Wygodzinsky, 1941 syn. n. under M. montana Wygodzinsky, 1941; M. pulchra Janetschek, 1950 syn. n. under M. helleri Verhoeff, 1910) and describe two new species (Machilis cryptoglacialis sp. n. and Machilis albida sp. n.), one uncovered from morphological crypsis and one never sampled before. Building on numerous cases of incongruence among data sources, we further shed light on complex evolutionary histories including hybrid speciation, historical and recent hybridization, and ongoing speciation. We hypothesize that an inherent affinity to hybridization, combined with parallel switches to parthenogenesis and repeated postglacial colonization events may have boosted endemicity in Eastern Alpine Machilis We thus emphasize the importance of integrative taxonomy for rigorous species delimitation and its implication for evolutionary research and conservation in taxonomically challenging taxa.

Keywords: Archaeognatha; gene tree discordance; hybrid speciation; hybrid swarm; incomplete lineage sorting; mitochondrial introgression; new species; new synonyms.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Classification / methods*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Europe, Eastern
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Insecta / anatomy & histology
  • Insecta / classification*
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Phylogeny*
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA, Mitochondrial