Mind the gap! Integrating taxonomic approaches to assess ant diversity at the southern extreme of the Atlantic Forest

Priscila Elena Hanisch, Pablo D. Lavinia, Andrew V. Suarez, Darío Alejandro Lijtmaer, Maurice Leponce, Carolina Ivon Paris, Pablo Luis Tubaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding patterns of species diversity relies on accurate taxonomy which can only be achieved by long-term natural history research and the use of complementary information to establish species boundaries among cryptic taxa. We used DNA barcoding to characterize the ant diversity of Iguazú National Park (INP), a protected area of the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest ecoregion, located at the southernmost extent of this forest. We assessed ant diversity using both cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COI) sequences and traditional morphological approaches, and compared the results of these two methods. We successfully obtained COI sequences for 312 specimens belonging to 124 species, providing a DNA barcode reference library for nearly 50% of the currently known ant fauna of INP. Our results support a clear barcode gap for all but two species, with a mean intraspecific divergence of 0.72%, and an average congeneric distance of 17.25%. Congruently, the library assembled here was useful for the discrimination of the ants of INP and allowed us to link unidentified males and queens to their worker castes. To detect overlooked diversity, we classified the DNA barcodes into Molecular Operational Taxonomic Units (MOTUs) using three different clustering algorithms, and compared their number and composition to that of reference species identified based on morphology. The MOTU count was always higher than that of reference species regardless of the method, suggesting that the diversity of ants at INP could be between 6% and 10% higher than currently recognized. Lastly, our survey contributed with 78 new barcode clusters to the global DNA barcode reference library, and added 36 new records of ant species for the INP, being 23 of them new citations for Argentina.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10451-10466
Number of pages16
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Argentina
  • DNA barcoding
  • Formicidae
  • Iguazú National Park
  • species delimitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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