Organisms Diversity & Evolution

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 447–542 | Cite as

Molecular and morphological recognition of species boundaries in the neglected ant genus Brachymyrmex (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): toward a taxonomic revision

  • Claudia M. Ortiz-SepulvedaEmail author
  • Bert Van Bocxlaer
  • Andrés D. Meneses
  • Fernando Fernández
Original Article


Brachymyrmex is a neglected genus of Formicinae because of its small body size, soft mesosoma, and superficially monotonous external morphology. These features have complicated the documentation of morphological variation, resulting in poorly defined and incompletely described species. Consequently, the taxonomy of the genus is complex and problematic, which has impeded research and conservation efforts. Here, we integrate molecular and morphological data to recognize species boundaries in Brachymyrmex and to guide its long-overdue revision. Specifically, we (1) redefine the limits of all described species, subspecies, and varieties based on intra- and interspecific morphological variation in workers; (2) document this variation quantitatively by constructing morphospace occupation and statistically analyzing measurements; (3) synthesize our findings on diagnostic traits in a dichotomous, illustrated identification key; and (4) examine the significance of our morphological identification system with molecular evidence from four gene fragments (EF1aEF1, EF1aEF2, WG, and COI). We recognize 40 species, of which four are new to science: Brachymyrmex bahamensis, Brachymyrmex bicolor, Brachymyrmex iridescens, and Brachymyrmex sosai. Furthermore, Brachymyrmex attenuatus and Brachymyrmex bonariensis are raised to species, and we propose 25 new synonyms. Morphometrics indicated that even poorly distinguishable species pairs show statistically significant differences in some traits, and that taxonomically problematic cases relate to taxa that demonstrate large intraspecific trait variance. Our molecular analysis supports the monophyly of the genus based on increased taxon sampling, and of the 19 species that were included 18 were retrieved as monophyletic. The single case of incongruence was also flagged in morphological analyses and requires extended geographic sampling before it can be resolved. In conclusion, the molecular work corroborates the morphologically recognized species boundaries. We also document the presence of worker dimorphism and putative worker-queen intercastes in several Brachymyrmex species, which indicates that the genus may present a promising study system to understand caste evolution in ants.


Brachymyrmex Formicinae Phylogeny Taxonomy Neotropics Morphometrics 



We thank Alex Wild (ALWC), Brian Fisher (CASC), Jacques Delabie (CPDC), Claudia Medina (IAvH), John Longino (JTLC), Carlos R. F. Brandão, Rodrigo Feitosa, Flávia Esteves (MZSP), Stefan Cover and Gary Alpert (MCZC), Heraldo Vasconcelos, Renata Pacheco, Gabriela Camacho (UFUC), Maria Tavano and Roberto Poggi (MCSN), Daniel Burckhardt (NHMB), Dominique Zimmermann (NHMW), Frank Koch (MfNB), Fabiana Cuezzo (INSUE), Priscila Hanisch (MACN), Phil Ward (PSWC), Maurice Leponce and Thibaut Delsinne (RBINS), and William and Emma MacKay (WEMC) for providing acces to collections and/or for the loan of critical material. David Donoso and John Longino kindly provided sequencing data. Ted Schultz, Jeffrey Sosa-Calvo, Eugenia Okonski (USNM), and Carlos Sarmiento (ICN) provided continuous support in the development of this paper. John Lattke, Fabiana Cuezzo, Lívia Pires do Prado, and an anonymous referee tested the identification key and providing invaluable comments and suggestions. Comments of John Longino, an anonymous referee, and the editors have strongly improved this manuscript.

Funding information

We are grateful for funding from the Division de Investigación de Bogotá (DIB), Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional de Colombia and the Colciencias program “Proyectos de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica” of 2010 (110152128319 CT 413–2011) (to CMOS and FF), for an Ernst Mayr Grant in 2011 (MCZ Harvard University), a grant from the Colciencias program “Jóvenes Investigadores e Innovadores—Virginia Gutiérrez de Pineda” in 2010–2011, a grant of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History installed by Cristian Samper (to CMOS), the Institut de Recherches Pluridisciplinaires en Sciences de l’Environnement (IREPSE; to BVB) and ANR-JCJC-EVOLINK of the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (to BVB); this work is a contribution to the CPER research project CLIMIBIO. The authors thank the French Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, the Hauts de France Region and the European Funds for Regional Economical Development for their financial support to this project (to CMOS and BVB).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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ESM 1 (PDF 3.80 mb)


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Copyright information

© Gesellschaft für Biologische Systematik 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Univ. Lille, CNRSLilleFrance
  2. 2.Instituto de Ciencias NaturalesUniversidad Nacional de ColombiaBogotáColombia

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