Navigation Links
Researchers develop tools for discovering new species

AMHERST, Mass. For hundreds of years, naturalists and scientists have identified new species based on an organism's visible differences. But now, new genetic techniques are revealing that different species can show little, to no visible differences.

In a just-published study, evolutionary biologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) combine traditional morphological tests plus genetic techniques to describe new species. Groups of morphologically similar organisms that show very divergent genetics are generally termed "cryptic species."

Lead author of an article describing their work with scale insects in the current issue of the journal ZooKeys is AMNH's Isabelle Vea. Co-authors are Ben Normark of UMass Amherst and Rodger Gwiazdowski, once Normark's doctoral student and now a postdoctoral research fellow at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, Guelph.

As Gwiazdowski explains, "A basic question about life is asking how many species there are on earth, and a major difficulty in answering it is defining what a species is. It's a big problem both practically and philosophically. There are no standards for how to define species or describe new ones. We've come up with a practical method, combining a conventional morphological approach with a look at genetic patterns that should develop as species form."

Though the evolutionary biologists don't expect their new combined approach to be applicable to all species, they believe it offers a pathway to future researchers looking to negotiate the territory between traditional identification methods and powerful new genetic techniques.

As a doctoral student, Gwiazdowski trekked across North America from Mexico through Canada collecting an especially large number of armored scale insect specimens. "We set out to ask, broadly, what is a species in this group," he says.

Species discovery efforts are usually hampered by under-sampling, he adds, but because of his continent-wide collecting, the study enjoys an unusually large sample. "You want to look for the full range of variation in a group, which includes geographic range." In the field, he collected and preserved samples in liquid nitrogen vapor, and these specimens are preserved at the Ambrose Monell Cryo Collection at the AMNH. "This new technique is now the best on Earth to preserve tissue for future work, and Monell is a public resource any scientist can access," he points out.

Normark notes that these insects are economically important to citrus and avocado growers, but otherwise are very obscure. "Scale insects are everywhere," he says. "You can't bring fruit into the country because it very often has scale insects on it, but you'd hardly know it. Even under the microscope, there aren't a lot of characteristics to distinguish different species."

Because they have very simple body shapes, no legs and no eyes, for example, they were particularly useful for this study of cryptic diversity in pine-feeding species, which can have "huge genetic diversity with no visible differences," Normark adds.

The team analyzed over 400 samples using both new and old methods to identify species. At UMass, Gwiazdowski and Normark looked at genetic variation using genes throughout the genome, while at the AMNH Vea looked for morphological differences in specimens mounted on microscope slides.

She recalls, "I went over those hundreds of specimens several times looking for striking variations that could indicate a new species. Because this group has very few characters to look at, I focused on the features of the posterior called pygidium. Ultimately, I did find some characters, more or less obvious, that were constant and different enough to serve as diagnostic features of our new species. But it required hours of staring into the compound microscope."

The result was "a mix of conventional and cryptic species," Gwiazdowski says. "Genetic results indicated at least 10 species, where we first knew of only two." Vea's detailed analyses describe four new species that were previously overlooked but having subtly distinct morphological variation. The remaining species are cryptic species as-yet undescribed. He adds, "Using traditional methods alone, you'd think these cryptic species were the same and you'd be wrong."

Overall, Gwiazdowski concludes, "Surprisingly, cryptic species are being uncovered among really big, supposedly well-known animals, like elephants and orcas. Our work on tiny scale insects just adds to a growing body of evidence that there are probably far more species in the world than conventional methods have recognized."


Contact: Janet Lathrop
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Related biology news :

1. University of Illinois researchers develop AFM-IR for nanometer scale chemical identification
2. IRB Barcelona researchers discover mechanism that regulates steroid hormone production in Drosophila
3. Researchers discover gateway in nucleus has a second important job no one noticed before
4. Researchers explain a key developmental mechanism for the first time in plants
5. Researchers find molecular switch turning on self-renewal of liver damage
6. UGA researchers shed light on ancient origin of life
7. Researchers discover workings of brains GPS system
8. Researchers propose new solution to ensure biofuel plants dont become noxious weeds
9. Temple researchers discover key to heart failure, new therapies on horizon
10. Researchers discover gene that causes obesity in mice
11. U of M researchers utilize genetically corrected stem cells to spark muscle regeneration
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Researchers develop tools for discovering new species
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015  Connected health pioneer, Joseph C. Kvedar ... technology-enabled health and wellness, and the business opportunities that ... The Internet of Healthy Things . Long before ... existed, Dr. Kvedar, vice president, Connected Health, Partners HealthCare, ... moving care from the hospital or doctor,s office into ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... YORK , Oct. 27, 2015 In ... major issues of concern for various industry verticals such ... is due to the growing demand for secure & ... in various ,sectors, such as hacking of bank accounts, ... for electronic equipment such as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones ...
(Date:10/26/2015)... , October 26, 2015 ... --> adds Biometrics Market ... 2021 as well as Emerging Biometrics ... reports to its collection of IT ... . --> ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015  Asia-Pacific (APAC) holds the third-largest share ... The trend of outsourcing to low-cost locations is ... volume share for the region in the short ... in the CRO industry will improve. ... ), finds that the market earned revenues ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... Copper is an essential micronutrient ... to proteins, copper is also toxic to cells. With a $1.3 million award ... will conduct a systematic study of copper in the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... This fall, global software solutions leader SAP and AdVenture Capital brought together dozens ... BIG ideas to improve health and wellness in their schools. , Now, the top ... of SAP's Teen Innovator, an all-expenses paid trip to Super Bowl 50, and an ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris ... today that the remaining 11,000 post-share consolidation (or ... Warrants (the "Series B Warrants") subject to the ... on November 23, 2015, which will result in ... giving effect to the issuance of such shares, ...
Breaking Biology Technology: