DNA Barcoding of 16S and COI Genes Provides Preliminary Evidence for Cryptic Nemertean Species near Bocas del Toro, Panama
Howland, Claire E.
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Cryptic species are morphologically indistinguishable species only identified as separate species via DNA barcoding. Because of the high likelihood of species misidentification, cryptic species pose a serious challenge to biodiversity conservation efforts. Given the high species-richness of marine ecosystems, it is imperative that marine conservation efforts expedite research on cryptic species in order to accurately assess biodiversity and effectively manage threatened marine ecosystems. Ribbon worms (Nemertea) are a highly diverse yet largely undescribed phylum already demonstrated to contain complexes of cryptic species. In 2016, research on the undescribed nemerteans of Bocas del Toro, Panama revealed a putative cryptic species complex of Micrura sp. "orange white tip" heteronemerteans. My research focused on elucidating this putative cryptic species complex via DNA barcoding of the 16S and COI mitochondrial genes and provides evidence for the presence of five cryptic Micrura species in this complex. My findings exemplify the necessity of DNA barcoding in identifying cryptic species, and provide pertinent information for future research on nemertean diversity as well as general conservation studies in Bocas del Toro, Panama.