Morphological and molecular species boundaries in the Hyalella species flock of Lake Titicaca (Crustacea: Amphipoda)
The Hyalella species diversity in the high-altitude water bodies of the Andean Altiplano is addressed using mitochondrial cox1 sequences and implementing different molecular species delimitation criteria. We have recorded the presence of five major genetic lineages in the Altiplano, of which one seems to be exclusive to Lake Titicaca and nearby areas, whereas the rest occur also in other regions of South America. Eleven out of 36 South American entities diagnosed by molecular delimitation criteria in our study are likely endemic to the Titicaca and neighbouring water bodies. We have detected a remarkable disagreement between morphology and genetic data in the Titicacan Hyalella , with occurrence of several cases of the same morpho-species corresponding to several Molecular Operational Taxonomic Units (MOTUs), some even distantly related, and other instances where a particular MOTU is shared by a morphologically heterogeneous array of species, including species with body smooth and others with body heavily armoured. Species diversification and incongruence between morphological and molecular boundaries within this species assemblage may be associated to the sharp changes in hydrological conditions experienced by the water bodies of the Altiplano in the past, which included dramatic fluctuations in water level and salinity of Lake Titicaca. Such environmental shifts could have triggered rapid morphological changes and ecological differentiation within the Hyalella assemblage, followed by phenotypic convergence among the diverse lineages. Factors such as phenotypic plasticity, incomplete lineage sorting or admixture between divergent lineages might lie also at the root of the morphological-genetic incongruence described herein.