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Species realities and numbers in sexual vertebrates: perspectives from an asexually transmitted genome.


A literature review is conducted on the phylogenetic discontinuities in mtDNA sequences of 252 taxonomic species of vertebrates. About 140 of these species (56%) were subdivided clearly into two or more highly distinctive matrilineal phylogroups, the vast majority of which were localized geographically. However, only a small number (two to six) of salient phylogeographic subdivisions (those that stand out against mean within-group divergences) characterized individual species. A previous literature summary showed that vertebrate sister species and other congeners also usually have pronounced phylogenetic distinctions in mtDNA sequence. These observations, taken together, suggest that current taxonomic species often agree reasonably well in number (certainly within an order-of-magnitude) and composition with biotic entities registered in mtDNA genealogies alone. In other words, mtDNA data and traditional taxonomic assignments tend to converge on what therefore may be "real" biotic units in nature. All branches in mtDNA phylogenies are nonanastomose, connected strictly via historical genealogy. Thus, patterns of historical phylogenetic connection may be at least as important as contemporary reproductive relationships per se in accounting for microevolutionary unities and discontinuities in sexually reproducing vertebrates. Findings are discussed in the context of the biological and phylogenetic species concepts.

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