Delimiting cryptic species within the brown-banded bamboo shark in the Indo-Australian region

Published on
16. June 2021

Delimiting cryptic species within the brown-banded bamboo shark, Chiloscyllium punctatum in the Indo-Australian region with mitochondrial DNA and genome-wide SNP approaches

Fahmi, Ian R. Tibbetts, Michael B. Bennett, Christine L. Dudgeon



Delimiting cryptic species in elasmobranchs is a major challenge in modern taxonomy due the lack of available phenotypic features. Employing stand-alone genetics in splitting a cryptic species may prove problematic for further studies and for implementing conservation management. In this study, we examined mitochondrial DNA and genome-wide nuclear single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the brown-banded bambooshark, Chiloscyllium punctatum to evaluate potential cryptic species and the species-population boundary in the group.


Both mtDNA and SNP analyses showed potential delimitation within C. punctatum from the Indo-Australian region and consisted of four operational taxonomic units (OTUs), i.e. those from Indo-Malay region, the west coast of Sumatra, Lesser Sunda region, and the Australian region. Each OTU can be interpreted differently depending on available supporting information, either based on biological, ecological or geographical data. We found that SNP data provided more robust results than mtDNA data in determining the boundary between population and cryptic species.


To split a cryptic species complex and erect new species based purely on the results of genetic analyses is not recommended. The designation of new species needs supportive diagnostic morphological characters that allow for species recognition, as an inability to recognise individuals in the field creates difficulties for future research, management for conservation and fisheries purposes. Moreover, we recommend that future studies use a comprehensive sampling regime that encompasses the full range of a species complex. This approach would increase the likelihood of identification of operational taxonomic units rather than resulting in an incorrect designation of new species.

BMC Ecol Evo 21, 121 (2021). DOI: 10.1186/s12862-021-01852-3


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