American journal of botany

Resolving cryptic species of Bossiella (Corallinales, Rhodophyta) using contemporary and historical DNA.

PMID 26542846


Phenotypic plasticity and convergent evolution have long complicated traditional morphological taxonomy. Fortunately, DNA sequences provide an additional basis for comparison, independent of morphology. Most importantly, by obtaining DNA sequences from historical type specimens, we are now able to unequivocally match species names to genetic groups, often with surprising results. We used an integrative taxonomic approach to identify and describe Northeast Pacific pinnately branched species in the red algal coralline genus Bossiella, for which traditional taxonomy recognized only one species, the generitype, Bossiella plumosa. We analyzed DNA sequences from historical type specimens and modern topotype specimens to assign species names and to identify genetic groups that were different and that required new names. Our molecular taxonomic assessment was followed by a detailed morphometric analysis of each species. Our study of B. plumosa revealed seven pinnately branched Bossiella species. Three species, B. frondescens, B. frondifera, and B. plumosa, were assigned names based on sequences from type specimens. The remaining four species, B. hakaiensis, B. manzae, B. reptans, and B. montereyensis, were described as new to science. In most cases, there was significant overlap of morphological characteristics among species. This study underscores the pitfalls of relying upon morpho-anatomy alone to distinguish species and highlights our likely underestimation of species worldwide. Our integrative taxonomic approach can serve as a model for resolving the taxonomy of other plant and algal genera.