Organisms Diversity & Evolution

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 393–408 | Cite as

Tracking the variability of phenotypic traits on a molecular phylogeny: an example from scolopendrid centipedes in peninsular India

  • Jahnavi JoshiEmail author
  • Gregory D. Edgecombe
Original Article


Taxonomic studies on scolopendrid centipedes have often documented variability at the individual and population levels and applied those data to questions of species delimitation, but these investigations have mostly lacked an explicit phylogenetic framework. A molecular phylogeny and recent taxonomic revision for Indian species of the scolopendrid Digitipes Attems, 1930, permit variability of traditional taxonomic characters for Scolopendridae to be mapped onto a phylogeny. Based on their fit to the tree using maximum likelihood, reliable species-level characters include the number of glabrous antennal articles, presence of a median ridge on the tergites, and presence or absence of a tarsal spur on leg 20. Characters that are conserved within and diagnostic for particular species but labile within others (typically with geographic structure) include the first tergite with paramedian sutures, presence or absence of a lateral spine on the coxopleuron, and the number of spines in a ventromedial row on the ultimate leg prefemur. Comparisons with published accounts of variability in species of other scolopendrid genera, particularly Scolopendra and Otostigmus, show that Indian Digitipes has conserved morphology in some characters that are taxonomically useful elsewhere in the family, and most of its taxonomically informative characters have analogous patterns of variability in other genera. The approach used in this study to evaluate morphological variation in a phylogenetic framework can be applied to other taxa in which morphologically cryptic species have been reported and where species diagnosis requires a combination of characters.


Character mapping Chilopoda Digitipes Western Ghats 



This collaboration was supported by a Royal Society International Exchange. We thank the Forest Departments of Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa for granting permission to collect in their forest areas; and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Ministry of Environment and Forests for funding the field excursions and molecular work. JJ would like to thank Dr. Praveen Karanth for useful discussions and encouragement to pursue this work. Dr. John Lewis advised on various taxonomic characters, and the journal’s referees provided useful suggestions that substantially improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Gesellschaft für Biologische Systematik 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Ecological SciencesIndian Institute of ScienceBangaloreIndia
  2. 2.National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute for Fundamental ResearchBangaloreIndia
  3. 3.Department of Earth Sciences, The Natural History MuseumLondonUK

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