Molecular Systematics of the Firefly Genus Luciola (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae) with the Description of a New Species from Singapore

Animals (Basel). 2021 Mar 4;11(3):687. doi: 10.3390/ani11030687.


The firefly genus Luciola sensu McDermott contains 282 species that are distributed across major parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and the Pacific islands. Due to phenotypic similarities, species identification using external morphological characters can be unreliable for this group. Consequently, decades of piecemeal taxonomic treatments have resulted in numerous erroneous and contentious classifications. Furthermore, our understanding of the group's evolutionary history is limited due to the lack of a robust phylogenetic framework that has also impeded efforts to stabilize its taxonomy. Here, we constructed molecular phylogenies of Luciola and its allies based on combined mitogenomes and Cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COX1) sequences including a newly sequenced mitogenome of an unidentified taxon from Singapore. Our results showed that this taxon represents a distinct and hitherto undescribed evolutionary lineage that forms a clade with L. filiformis from Japan and L. curtithorax from China. Additionally, the Singaporean lineage can be differentiated from other congeners through several external and internal diagnostic morphological characters, and is thus described herein as a new species. Our phylogeny also strongly supported the paraphyly of Luciola with regard to L. cruciata and L. owadai, which were inferred to be more closely related to the genus Aquatica as opposed to other members of Luciola sensu stricto. The genus Hotaria was inferred as a derived clade within Luciola (sister to L. italica), supporting its status as a subgenus of Luciola instead of a distinct genus. This is the first time since 1909 that a new species of luminous firefly has been discovered in Singapore, highlighting the need for continued biodiversity research, even in small, well-studied and highly developed countries, such as Singapore.

Keywords: Hotaria; Luciola cruciata; Luciola owadai; Nee Soon Swamp Forest; conservation; phylogenetics; taxonomy.