Life history, patchy distribution, and patchy taxonomy in a shallow-water invertebrate (Mollusca Polyplacophora: Lepidopleurida)

Julia D. Sigwart*, Chong Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
262 Downloads (Pure)


Things without names are difficult to rationalise, and so species that go without names are difficult to conserve or protect. This is a case study in resolving conflicts in historical taxonomy and ‘real’ species (identifiable and evolutionarily relevant groupings) using an approach including population genetics, natural history, and pragmatism. We report the observation that populations of a shallow-water chiton species from Washington and British Columbia demonstrate extremely high site fidelity and patchy distribution. Their limited dispersal potential and isolation could be explained by a brooding life history. This stands in direct contrast with the supposedly wide distribution of this “species”, Leptochiton rugatus (Carpenter in Pilsbry, 1892) sensu lato, from the Sea of Japan to Baja California. But this lineage has previously been suggested to comprise several cryptic species. Indeed, a haplotype network analysis using 61 individual sequences of the cytochrome oxidase c subunit I gene for L. rugatus s.l. revealed four discrete clusters which correspond to different parts of the geographic range. We infer these to represent four distinct species, at least two of which are likely novel. Leptochiton rugatus sensu stricto is herein reinterpreted as restricted to California and Baja California, and the new name L. cascadiensis sp. nov. is established for the lineage with a distribution in the Cascadia coastal bioregion from the panhandle of Alaska to Oregon. There are minor morphological differences among these species in the L. rugatus species complex, but genetic data or morphological observations alone would not have been sufficient to definitively recognise these groups as species-level lineages. The observation that different species within the complex may have different life history strategies provides important support for interpreting different populations as genuinely separate species.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalMarine Biodiversity
Early online date08 Apr 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 Apr 2017


  • Chiton
  • Cryptic species
  • Haplotype network
  • Life history
  • Northeast Pacific

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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