Integrating DNA data and traditional taxonomy to streamline biodiversity assessment: an example from edaphic beetles in the Klamath ecoregion, California, USA

Ryan M. Caesar, Mikael Sörensson, Anthony I. Cognato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conservation and land management decisions may be misguided by inaccurate or misinterpreted knowledge of biodiversity. Non-systematists often lack taxonomic expertise necessary for an accurate assessment of biodiversity. Additionally, there are far too few taxonomists to contribute significantly to the task of identifying species for specimens collected in biodiversity studies. While species level identification is desirable for making informed management decisions concerning biodiversity, little progress has been made to reduce this taxonomic deficiency. Involvement of non-systematists in the identification process could hasten species identification. Incorporation of DNA sequence data has been recognized as one way to enhance biodiversity assessment and species identification. DNA data are now technologically and economically feasible for most scientists to apply in biodiversity studies. However, its use is not widespread and means of its application has not been extensively addressed. This paper illustrates how such data can be used to hasten biodiversity assessment of species using a little-known group of edaphic beetles. Partial mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I was sequenced for 171 individuals of feather-wing beetles (Coleoptera: Ptiliidae) from the Klamath ecoregion, which is part of a biodiversity hotspot, the California Floristic Province. A phylogram of these data was reconstructed via parsimony and the strict consensus of 28,000 equally parsimonious trees was well resolved except for peripheral nodes. Forty-two voucher specimens were selected for further identification from clades that were associated with many synonymous and non-synonymous nucleotide changes. A ptiliid taxonomic expert identified nine species that corresponded to monophyletic groups. These results allowed for a more accurate assessment of ptiliid species diversity in the Klamath ecoregion. In addition, we found that the number of amino acid changes or percentage nucleotide difference did not associate with species limits. This study demonstrates that the complementary use of taxonomic expertise and molecular data can improve both the speed and the accuracy of species-level biodiversity assessment. We believe this represents a means for non-systematists to collaborate directly with taxonomists in species identification and represents an improvement over methods that rely solely on parataxonomy or sequence data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-489
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology

Free keywords

  • molecular systematics
  • barcoding
  • DNA taxonomy
  • species identification


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