This study focuses on phylogenetic relationships in two distinct species assemblages of cave-dwelling beetles with similar disjunct distributions in the Pyrenees and Sardinia. One assemblage contains six species in the genera Ovobathysciola (four species) and Patriziella (two species) on Sardinia and one species of Anillochlamys in the Pyrenees. Species within the two Sardinian genera co-occur in the same karst area. Although, they are believed to be each others closest relative, they have very different body types (globular body with short appendages in Ovobathysciola; elongated body with long appendages in Patriziella), which are believed to reflect different degrees of adaptation to cave life. The other assemblage of Bathysciine beetles includes three species in the genus Speonomus in the Pyrenees and one on Sardinia. All the species are rare and many are endangered.
One issue of particular interest was whether Ovobathysciola and Patriziella are reciprocally monophyletic or whether each of the Patriziella species evolved independently from the co-occurring Ovobathysciola species, as the similar morphology of the Patriziella species might be due to convergence rather than common descent. Based on DNA sequences of the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) region of the mtDNA, neither scenario was supported. Rather, the two Patriziella species are sister taxa embedded within the Ovobathysciola radiation. In addition, the well-dated geological history of this region allowed us to calibrate absolute rates of COI evolution, the first such estimates for any insect. Finally this study suggests that the evolutionary acquisition of typical cave adaptations (e.g., elongated body and appendages) may occur at about the same rate as loss of traits (e.g., eyes and pigmentation) associated with cave life.
Corresponding Editor: E. Zouros