Fast census of moth diversity in the neotropics: A comparison of field-assigned morphospecies and DNA barcoding in tiger moths

Mauricio M. Zenker, Rodolphe Rougerie, José A. Teston, Michel Laguerre, Marcio R. Pie, André V.L. Freitas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The morphological species delimitations (i.e. morphospecies) have long been the best way to avoid the taxonomic impediment and compare insect taxa biodiversity in highly diverse tropical and subtropical regions. The development of DNA barcoding, however, has shown great potential to replace (or at least complement) the morphospecies approach, with the advantage of relying on automated methods implemented in computer programs or even online rather than in often subjective morphological features. We sampled moths extensively for two years using light traps in a patch of the highly endangered Atlantic Forest of Brazil to produce a nearly complete census of arctiines (Noctuoidea: Erebidae), whose species richness was compared using different morphological and molecular approaches (DNA barcoding). A total of 1,075 barcode sequences of 286 morphospecies were analyzed. Based on the clustering method Barcode Index Number (BIN) we found a taxonomic bias of approximately 30% in our initial morphological assessment. However, a morphological reassessment revealed that the correspondence between morphospecies and molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs) can be up to 94% if differences in genitalia morphology are evaluated in individuals of different MOTUs originated from the same morphospecies (putative cases of cryptic species), and by recording if individuals of different genders in different morphospecies merge together in the same MOTU (putative cases of sexual dimorphism). The results of two other clustering methods (i.e. Automatic Barcode Gap Discovery and 2% threshold) were very similar to those of the BIN approach. Using empirical data we have shown that DNA barcoding performed substantially better than the morphospecies approach, based on superficial morphology, to delimit species of a highly diverse moth taxon, and thus should be used in species inventories.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0148423
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Fast census of moth diversity in the neotropics: A comparison of field-assigned morphospecies and DNA barcoding in tiger moths'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this