Previous genetic studies of extant planktonic foraminifera have provided evidence that the traditional, strictly morphological definition of species in these organisms underestimates their biodiversity. Here, we report the first case where this pattern is reversed. The modern (sub)tropical species plexus Globigerinoides sacculifer is characterized by large morphological variability, which has led to the proliferation of taxonomic names attributed to morphological end-members within the plexus. In order to clarify the taxonomic status of its morphotypes and to investigate the genetic connectivity among its currently partly disjunct (sub)tropical populations, we carried out a global survey of two ribosomal RNA regions (SSU and ITS-1) in all recent morphotypes of the plexus collected throughout (sub)tropical surface waters of the global ocean. Unexpectedly, we find an extremely reduced genetic variation within the plexus and no correlation between genetic and morphological divergence, suggesting taxonomical overinterpretation. The genetic homogeneity within the morphospecies is unexpected, considering its partly disjunct range in the (sub)tropical Atlantic and Indo-Pacific and its old age (early Miocene). A sequence variant in the rapidly evolving ITS-1 region indicates the existence of an exclusively Atlantic haplotype, which suggests an episode of relatively recent (last glacial) isolation, followed by subsequent resumption of unidirectional gene flow from the Indo-Pacific into the Atlantic. This is the first example in planktonic foraminifera where the morphological variability in a morphospecies exceeds its rDNA genetic variability. Such evidence for inconsistent scaling of morphological and genetic diversity in planktonic foraminifera could complicate the interpretation of evolutionary patterns in their fossil record.
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Vol. 39 • No. 1