Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 2013; 51 (1), 19-28
The phylogenetic analysis of groundwater amphipods is challenging due to the lack of suitable morphological characters. However, molecular phylogenies based on the 18S and 28S nuclear genes of two Crangonyctoidea species endemic to Iceland, Crymostygius thingvallensis and Crangonyx islandicus, support the taxonomy of these species on the basis of morphological characters. Molecular analyses suggest that the genus Crangonyx is paraphyletic, with the species that is found in Eurasia being highly divergent genetically from the species present in North America and Iceland. Studies of the phylogenetic relationships within the genus Niphargus also warrant further work. The nuclear ITS2 region has recently been proposed as a barcoding marker for plants and animals. In addition, ITS2 has been used to build phylogenies at high taxonomic levels by including its secondary structure. In this study, we want to evaluate the applicability of the ITS region for this group of species and describe its characteristics. The taxonomy of C. thingvallensis, as well as the paraphyly of the genus Crangonyx, is supported herein by phylogenies based on the ITS2 variation. The secondary structure and the length of the ITS2 sequences of the Crangonyctoidea and the Niphargidae species studied are highly variable and are characterized by duplications. The ITS2 sequence of Niphargus plateaui is the longest metazoan sequence deposited in the ITS2 database so far. Although saturation was observed in the nucleotide variation of this marker, the addition of the secondary structure information for the reconstruction of the phylogeny did not add support to the phylogenetic trees. The ITS1 region, which is known to be more variable than ITS2 and bears a large duplication within C. islandicus, was found to be less useful for phylogenetic reconstruction.