Plotting for change: an analytical framework to aid decisions on which lineages are candidate species in phylogenomic species discovery

Peter J. Unmack, Mark Adams, Michael P. Hammer, Jerald B. Johnson, Bernd Gruber, André Gilles, Matthew Young, Arthur Georges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


A recent study argued that coalescent-based models of species delimitation mostly delineate population structure, not species, and called for the validation of candidate species using biological information additional to the genetic information, such as phenotypic or ecological data. Here, we introduce a framework to interrogate genomic datasets and coalescent-based species trees for the presence of candidate species in situations where additional biological data are unavailable, unobtainable or uninformative. For de novo genomic studies of species boundaries, we propose six steps: (1) visualize genetic affinities among individuals to identify both discrete and admixed genetic groups from first principles and to hold aside individuals involved in contemporary admixture for independent consideration; (2) apply phylogenetic techniques to identify lineages; (3) assess diagnosability of those lineages as potential candidate species; (4) interpret the diagnosable lineages in a geographical context (sympatry, parapatry, allopatry); (5) assess significance of difference or trends in the context of sampling intensity; and (6) adopt a holistic approach to available evidence to inform decisions on species status in the difficult cases of allopatry. We adopt this approach to distinguish candidate species from within-species lineages for a widespread species complex of Australian freshwater fishes (Retropinna spp.). Our framework addresses two cornerstone issues in systematics that are often not discussed explicitly in genomic species discovery: diagnosability and how to determine it, and what criteria should be used to decide whether diagnosable lineages are conspecific or represent different species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-137
Number of pages21
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2022


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