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Integrative taxonomy resolves taxonomic uncertainty for freshwater mussels being considered for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act

October 22, 2018

Objectively delimiting species boundaries remains an important challenge in systematics and becomes urgent when unresolved taxonomy complicates conservation and recovery efforts. We examined species boundaries in the imperiled freshwater mussel genus Cyclonaias(Bivalvia: Unionidae) using morphometrics, molecular phylogenetics, and multispecies coalescent models to help guide pending conservation assessments and legislative decisions. Congruence across multiple lines of evidence indicated that current taxonomy overestimates diversity in the C. pustulosa species complex. The only genetically and morphologically diagnosable species in the C. pustulosa species complex were C. pustulosa and C. succissa and we consider C. aurea, C. houstonensis, C. mortoni, and C. refulgens to be synonyms of C. pustulosa. In contrast, all three species in the C. nodulata complex (C. necki, C. nodulata, and C. petrina) were genetically, geographically, and morphologically diagnosable. Our findings have important conservation and management implications, as three nominal species (C. aurea, C. houstonensis, and C. petrina) are being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.