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Systematics, phylogeny and biogeography

A posteriori’ searching for phenotypic characters to describe new cryptic species of sponges revealed by molecular markers (Dictyonellidae : Scopalina)

Andrea Blanquer A B and Maria-J. Uriz A
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A Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes CSIC, c/ accés cala St Francesc 14, 17300 Blanes, Girona, Spain.

B Corresponding author. Email:

Invertebrate Systematics 22(5) 489-502
Submitted: 15 February 2007  Accepted: 29 July 2008   Published: 4 December 2008


Cryptic speciation is repeatedly reported in sponge taxonomic studies. Most of the cryptic species, which were revealed by molecular markers, have never been formally described owing to the difficulty in finding diagnostic phenotypic characters. A previous molecular study revealed four genetically distinct species that had been misidentified as Scopalina lophyropoda Schmidt. One species was S. lophyropoda sensu stricto, whereas the other three were new species. Here, the three new species are formally described after careful searching for discriminatory phenotypic characters. The new species are Scopalina blanensis, sp. nov. from the north-western Mediterranean, S. ceutensis, sp. nov. from the Mediterranean coasts of Africa (Atlantic waters) and S. canariensis, sp. nov. from the Canary Islands, Atlantic Ocean. All of them are at first sight morphologically similar and inhabit shallow environments with resuspended sediment. However, a closer examination allowed us to find some differential features: e.g. the amount of spongin embedding the spicules, the degree of complexity of the skeletal tracts, the size and curvature of the styles, the growth habit and the colour tinge. Furthermore, an identification key to the Atlanto-Mediterranean Scopalina species is presented. The differences between the genera Scopalina, Ulosa and Dictyonella are also discussed.


We thank X. Turon and C. Palacín for the specimens of S. ceutensis; S. Duran, K. Rützler and S. Mariani for specimens and pictures of S. ruetzleri from Belize (North-west Atlantic) and S. Mariani for helping in larval collection. We also thank C. Marschal and N. Boury-Esnault from the Centre d’Océanologie de Marseille for performing the thick sections and J. M. Fortuño from CMIMA-CSIC for helping with the SEM pictures. Comments and suggestions by two anonymous reviewers substantially improved the final version of this paper. The study has benefited from an I3P pre-doctoral fellowship from the CSIC to AB and project INTERGEN, CTM 2004–05265-CO2/MAR, and MARMOL, CTM2007–66635-C02/MAR to MJU.


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