Navigating the mtDNA road map out of the morphological maze: interpreting morphological variation in the diverse Monomorium rothsteini (Forel) complex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Kathryn Sparks, Alan Andersen, S Donnellan, A.D Austin

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    Monomorium is a large and diverse ant genus with speciose radiations in both the Afrotropical and Australian regions. According to the most recent taxonomic revision, many Australian species are characterised by very broad distributions and variable morphology, which suggests that some species may be unrecognised species complexes. With a continent-wide distribution and diverse yet overlapping morphology, M. rothsteini (Forel) is representative of the greater challenge that exists in Australian Monomorium systematics. Here we investigate species boundaries in M. rothsteini using a molecular phylogenetic framework to interpret the complex overlap of nine morphological characters (with 31 states) and examine biogeographic relationships among the lineages. Bayesian inference resolved 38 mtDNA lineages that were morphologically separable, at least from their sister lineage. Although the morphological characters were intermixed across the phylogeny, instances of inseparable morphology among sister clades was rare. Seventeen lineages exhibited complete morphological overlap with one or more other lineages and could not be separated by Principal Component Analysis based on 12 morphometric variables. Two-thirds of all lineages occurred sympatrically with one or more both genetically and morphologically divergent lineages. The two nuclear markers EF1αF2 and wingless were used to generate haplotype networks which were characterised by a star-like pattern indicative of a rapid and recent radiation. Several haplotypes for both nuclear gene regions were shared among individuals occurring in separate mtDNA clades which we were also unable to distinguish morphologically or that were occurring in sympatry, indicating possible introgression in both the mtDNA and nuclear genomes. Clear biogeographic affinities among samples within a lineage were detected but there was no overall pattern in the biogeographic relationships among the lineages. We conclude that M. rothsteini is a large species complex that has undergone a complex evolutionary history following aridification of the Australian continent, and discuss the implications of this conclusion for the systematics of Australian Monomorium more generally.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)264-278
    Number of pages15
    JournalSystematic Entomology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


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