Evaluation of combined morphological and molecular techniques for marine nematode (Terschellingia spp.) identification
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Marine nematodes, which play an important role in many ecosystems, include a number of apparently cosmopolitan taxa that exhibit broad biogeographic ranges even though there is no obvious dispersal phase in their lifecycle. In this study, standard taxonomic approaches to marine nematode identification in conjunction with multivariate statistical analysis of morphometric data were compared with molecular techniques. Specimens of the marine nematode Terschellingia longicaudata that had been identified by their morphological features were investigated from a range of localities (East and West Atlantic, Bahrain, Malaysia) and habitats (estuarine, intertidal, subtidal) using molecular approaches based on the amplification and sequencing of the small subunit ribosomal RNA (18S rRNA). The study revealed that the majority of the morphologically defined T. longicaudata specimens share a single 18S rRNA sequence and apparently belong to a single taxon distributed from the British Isles to Malaysia. In addition, 18S rRNA analysis also revealed two additional sequences. One of these sequences was found in both the British Isles and Mexico, the other was recorded only from British waters. Individuals collected in Bahrain and identified from their morphology as T. longicaudata had two highly divergent 18S rRNA sequences. Separate morphological and morphometric approaches to identification of specimens from the same sites that had been formalin-preserved did not support evidence of multiple genotypes revealed previously by molecular analysis. Current taxonomy based on morphological characters detected using light-microscopy may be unable to discriminate possible species complexes. Biodiversity of marine nematodes may often be underestimated due to the presence of morphologically cryptic species complexes. High-throughput techniques such as DNA barcoding would aid in species identification but may require thorough analysis of multiple nuclear and mitochondrial molecular markers.