Diversification and reproductive isolation: cryptic species in the only New World high-duty cycle bat, Pteronotus parnellii.
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BMC Evol Biol
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BACKGROUND: Molecular techniques are increasingly employed to recognize the presence of cryptic species, even among commonly observed taxa. Previous studies have demonstrated that bats using high-duty cycle echolocation may be more likely to speciate quickly. Pteronotus parnellii is a widespread Neotropical bat and the only New World species to use high-duty cycle echolocation, a trait otherwise restricted to Old World taxa. Here we analyze morphological and acoustic variation and genetic divergence at the mitochondrial COI gene, the 7th intron region of the y-linked Dby gene and the nuclear recombination-activating gene 2, and provide extensive evidence that P. parnellii is actually a cryptic species complex. RESULTS: Central American populations form a single species while three additional species exist in northern South America: one in Venezuela, Trinidad and western Guyana and two occupying sympatric ranges in Guyana and Suriname. Reproductive isolation appears nearly complete (only one potential hybrid individual found). The complex likely arose within the last ~6 million years with all taxa diverging quickly within the last ~1-2 million years, following a pattern consistent with the geological history of Central and northern South America. Significant variation in cranial measures and forearm length exists between three of the four groups, although no individual morphological character can discriminate these in the field. Acoustic analysis reveals small differences (5-10 kHz) in echolocation calls between allopatric cryptic taxa that are unlikely to provide access to different prey resources but are consistent with divergence by drift in allopatric species or through selection for social recognition. CONCLUSIONS: This unique approach, considering morphological, acoustic and multi-locus genetic information inherited maternally, paternally and bi-parentally, provides strong support to conclusions about the cessation of gene flow and degree of reproductive isolation of these cryptic species.