Insect parasitoids are a major component of global biodiversity and affect the population dynamics of their hosts. However, identification of insect parasitoids is often difficult, and they are suspected to contain many cryptic species. Here, we ask whether the cytochromecoxidase I DNA barcode could function as a tool for species identification and discovery for the 20 morphospecies ofBelvosiaparasitoid flies (Diptera: Tachinidae) that have been reared from caterpillars (Lepidoptera) in Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), northwestern Costa Rica. Barcoding not only discriminates among all 17 highly host-specific morphospecies of ACGBelvosia, but it also raises the species count to 32 by revealing that each of the three generalist species are actually arrays of highly host-specific cryptic species. We also identified likely hybridization amongBelvosiaby using a variable internal transcribed spacer region 1 nuclear rDNA sequence as a genetic covariate in addition to the strategy of overlaying barcode clusters with ecological information. If general, these results will increase estimates of global species richness and imply that tropical conservation and host–parasite interactions may be more complex than expected.
Although central to much biological research, the identification of species is often difficult. The use of DNA barcodes, short DNA sequences from a standardized region of the genome, has recently been proposed as a tool to facilitate species identification and discovery. However, the effectiveness of DNA barcoding for identifying specimens in species-rich tropical biotas is unknown. Here we show that cytochromecoxidase I DNA barcodes effectively discriminate among species in three Lepidoptera families from Area de Conservación Guanacaste in northwestern Costa Rica. We found that 97.9% of the 521 species recognized by prior taxonomic work possess distinctive cytochromecoxidase I barcodes and that the few instances of interspecific sequence overlap involve very similar species. We also found two or more barcode clusters within each of 13 supposedly single species. Covariation between these clusters and morphological and/or ecological traits indicates overlooked species complexes. If these results are general, DNA barcoding will significantly aid species identification and discovery in tropical settings.
Many species of tachinid flies are viewed as generalist parasitoids because what is apparently a single species of fly has been reared from many species of caterpillars. However, an ongoing inventory of the tachinid flies parasitizing thousands of species of caterpillars in Area de Conservación Guanacaste, northwestern Costa Rica, has encountered >400 species of specialist tachinids with only a few generalists. We DNA-barcoded 2,134 flies belonging to what appeared to be the 16 most generalist of the reared tachinid morphospecies and encountered 73 mitochondrial lineages separated by an average of 4% sequence divergence. These lineages are supported by collateral ecological information and, where tested, by independent nuclear markers (28S and ITS1), and we therefore view these lineages as provisional species. Each of the 16 apparently generalist species dissolved into one of four patterns: (i) a single generalist species, (ii) a pair of morphologically cryptic generalist species, (iii) a complex of specialist species plus a generalist, or (iv) a complex of specialists with no remaining generalist. In sum, there remained 9 generalist species among the 73 mitochondrial lineages we analyzed, demonstrating that a generalist lifestyle is possible for a tropical caterpillar parasitoid fly. These results reinforce the emerging suspicion that estimates of global species richness are likely underestimates for parasitoids (which may constitute as much as 20% of all animal life) and that the strategy of being a tropical generalist parasitic fly may be yet more unusual than has been envisioned for tachinids.