Research Article: Phylogenetic reconstruction of Syntermitinae (Isoptera, Termitidae) based on morphological and molecular data

Date Published: March 22, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mauricio M. Rocha, Adriana C. Morales-Corrêa e Castro, Carolina Cuezzo, Eliana M. Cancello, Tony Robillard.


The subfamily Syntermitinae comprises a group of Neotropical termites with 18 genera and 101 species described. It has been considered a natural group, but relationships among the genera within the subfamily remain uncertain, and some genera appear to be non-monophyletic. Here, we provide a comprehensive phylogeny including six Neotropical species of Termitinae as outgroup, 42 Syntermitinae species as ingroup, 92 morphological characters (from external and internal anatomy of soldier and worker castes) and 117 molecular sequences (109 obtained for this study and 8 from GenBank) of 4 gene regions (41 and 22 from Cytochrome Oxidase I and II respectively, 19 from Cytochrome b, and 35 from 16S rDNA). Morphological and molecular data were analyzed in combination, with the Bayesian inference method, and the important aspects of termite biology, defense and feeding habits are discussed based on the resulting tree. Although useful for providing diagnostic characters, the morphology of the soldier caste reveals several cases of convergence; whereas the feeding habit shows indications of evolutionary significance.

Partial Text

The subfamily Syntermitinae comprises a group of Neotropical termites that ranges from southern Mexico (Cahuallitermes) to northern Argentina (Cornitermes, Procornitermes, Rhynchotermes, Syntermes), with the richest generic and specific diversity in the Brazilian Cerrado biome. Fifteen syntermitine genera occur in the Cerrado, where several species of Cornitermes, Silvestritermes and Syntermes construct conspicuous epigeal nests that characterize this savanna-like landscape. Cornitermes cumulans can reach a nest density of 55/ha, and is considered a keystone species in the Cerrado [1]. These termite nests may harbor many other termite species as well as other groups of invertebrates.

From the total of 48 species used in our analyses, we obtained DNA data from three or four different gene for 25 species, two different sequences for 16 species and only one sequence for 4 species (Table 1). Two taxa are represented only by morphological data. About one third of the sequences information is absent. Although the poverty of sequences may compromise the results, the majority of taxa share COII and 16s rDNA information (The information for COII sequences is absent only in four taxa and for 16S rDNA in 10), the major part of lacking information is concentrated in COI and Cytb sequences.




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