Abstract

Identifying species boundaries within morphologically indistinguishable cryptic species complexes is often contentious. For the whitefly Bemisia tabaci (Gennadius) (Hemiptera: Sternorrhyncha: Aleyrodoidea: Aleyrodidae), the lack of a clear understanding about the genetic limits of the numerous genetic groups and biotypes so far identified has resulted in a lack of consistency in the application of the terms, the approaches used to apply them and in our understanding of what genetic structure within B. tabaci means. Our response has been to use mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase one to consider how to clearly and consistently define genetic separation. Using Bayesian phylogenetic analysis and analysis of sequence pairwise divergence we found a considerably higher number of genetic groups than had been previously determined with two breaks in the distribution, one at 11% and another at 3.5%. At >11% divergence, 11 distinct groups were resolved, whereas at >3.5% divergence 24 groups were identified. Consensus sequences for each of these groups were determined and were shown to be useful in the correct assignment of sequences of unknown origin. The 3.5% divergence bound is consistent with species level separations in other insect taxa and suggests that B. tabaci is a cryptic species composed of at least 24 distinct species. We further show that the placement of Bemesia atriplex (Froggatt) within the B. tabaci in group adds further weight to the argument for species level separation within B. tabaci. This new analysis, which constructs consensus sequences and uses these as a standard against which unknown sequences can be compared, provides for the first time a consistent means of identifying the genetic bounds of each species with a high degree of certainty.

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