Diversity (May 2022)

Four in One: Cryptic Diversity in Geoffroy’s Side-Necked Turtle <i>Phrynops geoffroanus</i> (Schweigger 1812) (Testudines: Pleurodira: Chelidae) in Brazil

  • Vinicius Tadeu de Carvalho,
  • Richard C. Vogt,
  • Rommel R. Rojas,
  • Mário da Silva Nunes,
  • Rafael de Fraga,
  • Robson W. Ávila,
  • Anders G. J. Rhodin,
  • Russell A. Mittermeier,
  • Tomas Hrbek,
  • Izeni Pires Farias

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 5
p. 360


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Turtles are one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates, with about 60% of species classified at some level of extinction risk. Compounding this extinction crisis are cryptic species and species complexes that are evaluated under a single species epithet but harbor multiple species, each of which needs to be evaluated independently. The Phrynops geoffroanus species group is a classic example. Described first in 1812, it is currently thought to harbor multiple species. To test this hypothesis, we collected mitochondrial and nuclear genomic data, morphometric data, and distribution and associated biome information. We applied statistically rigorous species delimitation analyses, taxonomic hypotheses tests, and fully coalescent phylogenetic reconstruction methods, concluding that the Phrynops geoffroanus species complex comprises four geographically structured species/lineages that diverged during the Pleistocene and are currently geographically structured along the main South American river basins and biomes. These species/lineages show subtle and largely non-significant differences in shape but are characterized by differences in coloration and patterns of marks on the head and plastron. Our results contribute to the understanding of species diversity and diversification of biodiversity in South America and provide an important basis for the conservation of freshwater turtles.