A decade ago, DNA barcoding was proposed as a fast, cost-efficient and simple taxonomic method based on the use of a unique, short and standardized gene region for identifying existing species and speeding the discovery of new ones. Few DNA barcoding studies of squamate reptiles have been conducted. Due to the significance of the Socotra Archipelago (a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site and a biodiversity hotspot) and the conservation interest of its reptile fauna (94% endemics), we performed the most comprehensive DNA barcoding study on an island group to date to test its applicability to specimen identification and species discovery. Reptiles constitute Socotra’s most important vertebrate fauna, yet their taxonomy remains under-studied. We successfully DNA-barcoded 380 individuals of all 31 presently recognized species. The specimen identification success rate is moderate to high, and almost all species presented local barcoding gaps. The unexpected high levels of intra-specific variability found within some species suggest cryptic diversity. Species richness may be under-estimated by 13.8–54.4%. This has implications in the species’ ranges and conservation status that should be considered for conservation planning. Other phylogenetic studies using mitochondrial and nuclear markers are congruent with our results. We conclude that, despite its reduced length (663 base pairs), cytochrome c oxidase 1, COI, is very useful for specimen identification and for detecting intra-specific diversity, and has a good phylogenetic signal. We recommend DNA barcoding to be applied to other biodiversity hotspots for quickly and cost-efficiently flagging species discovery, preferentially incorporated into an integrative taxonomic framework.
Vasconcelos R*, Montero-Mendieta S*, Simó-Riudalbas M, Sindaco R, Santos X, Fasola M, Llorente GA, Razzetti E, Carranza S. (2016) Unexpectedly high levels of cryptic diversity uncovered by a complete DNA barcoding of reptiles of the Socotra Archipelago. PLOS ONE 11(3): e0149985 (*Both authors contributed equally to this work) [PDF] [Press release] [IBOL press]