A taxonomist‘s nightmare – Cryptic diversity in Caribbean intertidal arthropods (Arachnida, Acari, Oribatida)


There has been a long controversy about what defines a species and how to delimitate them which resulted in the existence of more than two dozen different species concepts. Recent research on  so-called “cryptic species” heated up this debate as some scientists argue that these cryptic species are only a result of incompatible species concepts. While this may be true, we should keep in mind that all concepts are nothing more than human constructs and that the phenomenon of high phenotypic similarity despite reproductive isolation is real. To investigate and understand this phenomenon it is important to classify and name cryptic species as it allows to communicate them with other fields of science that use Linnaean binomials. To provide a common framework for the description of cryptic species, we propose a possible protocol of how to formally name and describe these taxa in practice. The most important point of this protocol is to explain which species concept was used to delimitate the cryptic taxon. As a model, we present the case of the allegedly widespread Caribbean intertidal mite Thalassozetes barbara, which in fact consists of seven phenotypically very similar but genetically distinct species. All  species are  island or  short-range endemics with poor dispersal abilities that have evolved in geographic isolation. Stabilizing selection caused by the extreme conditions of the intertidal environment is suggested to be responsible for the morphological stasis of this cryptic species complex.

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