J Syst Evol

• Research Articles •    

Integrating coalescent-based species delimitation with ecological niche modeling delimited two species within the Stewartia sinensis complex (Theaceae)

Han‐Yang Lin, Kai‐Jie Gu, Wen‐Hao Li, and Yun‐Peng Zhao*   

  1. Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany and Biodiversity, College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China
  • Received:2020-09-23 Accepted:2021-02-02 Online:2021-02-12

Abstract: Accurate species delimitation is the key to precise estimation of species diversity and is fundamental to most branches of biology. Unclear species boundaries within species complexes could lead to the underestimation of species diversity. However, species delimitation of species complexes remains challenging due to the continuum of phenotypic variations. To robustly examine species boundaries within a species complex, integrative approaches in phylogeny, ecology, and morphology were applied to the Stewartia sinensis complex (Theaceae) endemic to China. Multispecies coalescent-based species delimitation using 572 nuclear ortholog sequences (anchored enrichment) supported reciprocal phylogenetic monophyly of the northern lineage (NL) and southern lineage (SL), which were not sister clades. Niche equivalency and similarity tests demonstrated significant climatic niche differentiation between NL and SL with observed Warren et al.'s I = 0.0073 and Schoener's D = 0.0021. Species distribution modeling also separated their potential distribution. Morphometric analyses suggested significant interlineage differentiation of multiple traits including the ratio of length and width, leaf width, and pedicel length, although overall similarity did not differ. Based on the integrative species concept, two distinct species were proposed with legitimate names of Stewartia gemmata for SL and S. sinensis for NL. Our empirical study of the S. sinensis complex highlights the importance of applying multiple species criteria, in particular the underappreciated niche differentiation, to species delimitation in species complexes pervasive in plants.

Key words: integrative taxonomy, multispecies coalescent, niche differentiation, species complex, Stewartia sinensis, Stewartia gemmata