University of Oulu

Hundsdoerfer, A. K., Lee, K. M., Kitching, I. J., & Mutanen, M. (2019). Genome-wide SNP Data Reveal an Overestimation of Species Diversity in a Group of Hawkmoths. Genome Biology and Evolution, 11(8), 2136–2150.

Genome-wide SNP data reveal an overestimation of species diversity in a group of hawkmoths

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Author: Hundsdoerfer, Anna K.1; Lee, Kyung Min2; Kitching, Ian J.3;
Organizations: 1Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden, Dresden, Germany
2Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, Finland
3Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 4.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Oxford University Press, 2019
Publish Date: 2019-09-20


The interface between populations and evolving young species continues to generate much contemporary debate in systematics depending on the species concept(s) applied but which ultimately reduces to the fundamental question of “when do nondiscrete entities become distinct, mutually exclusive evolutionary units”? Species are perceived as critical biological entities, and the discovery and naming of new species is perceived by many authors as a major research aim for assessing current biodiversity before much of it becomes extinct. However, less attention is given to determining whether these names represent valid biological entities because this is perceived as both a laborious chore and an undesirable research outcome. The charismatic spurge hawkmoths (Hyles euphorbiae complex, HEC) offer an opportunity to study this less fashionable aspect of systematics. To elucidate this intriguing systematic challenge, we analyzed over 10,000 ddRAD single nucleotide polymorphisms from 62 individuals using coalescent-based and population genomic methodology. These genome-wide data reveal a clear overestimation of (sub)species-level diversity and demonstrate that the HEC taxonomy has been seriously oversplit. We conclude that only one valid species name should be retained for the entire HEC, namely Hyles euphorbiae, and we do not recognize any formal subspecies or other taxonomic subdivisions within it. Although the adoption of genetic tools has frequently revealed morphologically cryptic diversity, the converse, taxonomic oversplitting of species, is generally (and wrongly in our opinion) accepted as rare. Furthermore, taxonomic oversplitting is most likely to have taken place in intensively studied popular and charismatic organisms such as the HEC.

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Series: Genome biology and evolution
ISSN: 1759-6653
ISSN-E: 1759-6653
ISSN-L: 1759-6653
Volume: 11
Issue: 8
Pages: 2136 - 2150
DOI: 10.1093/gbe/evz113
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This work was supported by the Academy of Finland (grant number 277984 allowed to M.M.; and UK National Environment Research Council (grant number NE/P003915/1 to I.J.K.). DNA samples are from projects that received funding by the DFG (grant numbers HU1561/1-1, 1-2) and Michael Wink, Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular Biotechnology, Heidelberg. The EU’s Improving Human Potential program SYNTHESYS (grant numbers GB-TAF-3410 and GB-TAF-5177) enabled A.K.H. morphological work on Hyles. K.M.L. acknowledges the financial support from the Kvantum Institute (University of Oulu).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 277984
Detailed Information: 277984 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.