Fisher and Smith break the PLoS taxonomy barrier

Odontomachus coquereli - Madagascar

Myrmecology continues to lead the way in online taxonomy. Today saw the release of the very first taxonomic paper published by the top-tier open access science journal, PLoS One.

Brian Fisher and Alex Smith combine alpha taxonomy with DNA barcoding to produce a revision of the Malagasy trap-jaw ants. The revision includes mitochondrial DNA sequences from some 500 individual ants and resulted in the inference of several new species. I've got plenty to say about DNA barcoding, but I'll leave that for a later post and instead point you to the thoughtful commentary by Kevin over at The Other 95%.

The citation and abstract for the Fisher & Smith paper are below.

citation: Fisher BL, Smith MA. 2008. A Revision of Malagasy Species of Anochetus Mayr and Odontomachus Latreille (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). PLoS ONE 3(5): e1787. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001787


Species inventories are essential for documenting global diversity and generating necessary material for taxonomic study and conservation planning. However, for inventories to be immediately relevant, the taxonomic process must reduce the time to describe and identify specimens. To address these concerns for the inventory of arthropods across the Malagasy region, we present here a collaborative approach to taxonomy where collectors, morphologists and DNA barcoders using cytochrome c oxidase 1 (CO1) participate collectively in a team-driven taxonomic process. We evaluate the role of DNA barcoding as a tool to accelerate species identification and description.

This revision is primarily based on arthropod surveys throughout the Malagasy region from 1992 to 2006. The revision is based on morphological and CO1 DNA barcode analysis of 500 individuals. In the region, five species of Anochetus (A. boltoni sp. nov., A. goodmani sp. nov., A. grandidieri, and A. madagascarensis from Madagascar, and A. pattersoni sp. nov. from Seychelles) and three species of Odontomachus (O. coquereli, O. troglodytes and O. simillimus) are recognized. DNA barcoding (using cytochrome c oxidase 1 (CO1)) facilitated caste association and type designation, and highlighted population structure associated with reproductive strategy, biogeographic and evolutionary patterns for future exploration.

This study provides an example of collaborative taxonomy, where morphology is combined with DNA barcoding. We demonstrate that CO1 DNA barcoding is a practical tool that allows formalized alpha-taxonomy at a speed, detail, precision, and scale unattainable by employing morphology alone.

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