ABSTRACT: Taxonomical studies of the neotropical Peripatidae (Onychophora, velvet worms) have proven difficult, due to intraspecific variation and uniformity of morphological characters across this onychophoran subgroup. We therefore used molecular approaches, in addition to morphological methods, to explore the diversity of Epiperipatus from the Minas Gerais State of Brazil.
Our analyses revealed three new species. While Epiperipatus diadenoproctussp. nov. can be distinguished from E. adenocryptussp. nov. and E. paurognostussp. nov. based on morphology and specific nucleotide positions in the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and small ribosomal subunit RNA gene sequences (12S rRNA), anatomical differences between the two latter species are not evident. However, our phylogenetic analyses of molecular data suggest that they are cryptic species, with high Bayesian posterior probabilities and bootstrap and Bremer support values for each species clade. The sister group relationship of E. adenocryptussp. nov. and E. paurognostussp. nov. in our analyses correlates with the remarkable morphological similarity of these two species. To assess the species status of the new species, we performed a statistical parsimony network analysis based on 582 base pairs of the COI gene in our specimens, with the connection probability set to 95%. Our findings revealed no connections between groups of haplotypes, which have been recognized as allopatric lineages in our phylogenetic analyses, thus supporting our suggestion that they are separate species.
Our findings suggest high cryptic species diversity and endemism among the neotropical Peripatidae and demonstrate that the combination of morphological and molecular approaches is helpful for clarifying the taxonomy and species diversity of this apparently large and diverse onychophoran group.
PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(6):e19973. · 4.09 Impact Factor