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Publication Date

June 2017


Molecular taxonomy often uncovers cryptic species, reminding us that taxonomic incompleteness is even more severe than previous thought. The importance of cryptic species for conservation is poorly understood. Although some cryptic species may be seriously threatened or otherwise important, they are rarely included in conservation programs as most of them remain undescribed. We analysed the importance of cryptic species in conservation by scrutinizing the South European cryptic complex of the subterranean amphipod Niphargus stygius sensu lato. Using uni- and multilocus delineation methods we show that it consists of 15 parapatric and sympatric species, which we describe using molecular diagnoses. The new species are not mere “taxonomic inflation” as they originate from several distinct branches within the genus and coexist with no evidence of lineage sharing. They are as evolutionarily distinct as average nominal species of the same genus. Ignoring these cryptic species will underestimate the number of subterranean endemics in Slovenia by 12 and in Croatia by four species, although alpha diversity of single caves remains unchanged. The new taxonomy renders national Red Lists largely obsolete, as they list mostly large-ranged species but omit critically endangered single-site endemics. Formal naming of cryptic species is critical for them to be included in conservation policies and faunal listings.

Document Type



Scientific Reports, Vol. 7, no. 3391 (2017-06-13).





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