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DNA barcode finds four new bird species

st by measuring whether the technique could distinguish closely related species as well as very different ones. Stoeckle and Hebert, along with Hebert's Guelph colleague Tyler S. Zemlak and Charles M. Francis at the Canadian Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Research Centre, applied it to birds, one of the largest and best-studied vertebrate groups. Taking samples mainly from specimens held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, they analyzed COI sequences from 260 bird species that breed in North America.

The researchers first measured how much the COI barcode varied within members of the same species. Then they compared this variation with the degree of variation among birds of different species.

They found that each of the 260 species tested had a distinct COI sequence. For 130 of these species, the researchers looked at the DNA of two or more individuals. They found that, in most cases, the variation in sequences between species -- even closely related ones -- was on average 18 times higher than the variation among individuals within the same species.

"The ratio of 'interspecific' to 'intraspecific' variation offers a new provisional definition of what is a species," says Stoeckle.

New Species Discovered

In the course of their research, the scientists found two distinct COI barcodes within each of four species -- solitary sandpiper, eastern meadowlark, marsh wren and warbling vireo. This discovery indicated that what had been identified as one species, in these cases, was actually two.

Based on traditional species identification methods such as morphology and behavior, some taxonomists had already suspected that these species should be split. The DNA barcode data confirmed the suspicions.

In the future many more species will be discovered both by splitting currently described species and by identifying the millions of
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27-Sep-2004


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