Taxonomy isn't black and white

DNA barcoding method put to the test reveals new cryptic bird and butterfly species

Nick Atkinson(nwa@entangled.org)
Sep 27, 2004

Two studies published this week by the University of Guelph's Paul Hebert and colleagues appear to confirm DNA barcoding as a powerful tool in taxonomic diagnostics. But claims and counterclaims about just what the method can and can't deliver continue unabated.

In the first study, published in PLoS Biology, Hebert and colleagues present an analysis of 260 known North American bird species. DNA barcodes—a 648-bp region of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome c oxidase I (COI)—are either identical or very similar within species, but differ between species. Of the 260 species examined, all were distinguished using barcodes, and four new cryptic species were discovered.

The second study, appearing this week in PNAS, uses the same technique to demonstrate that the neotropical skipper butterfly Astraptes fulgerator is actually a species complex consisting of at least 10 species. According to Felix Sperling, who was not involved in either study, Hebert's...

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