Delimiting species using DNA and morphological variation and discordant species limits in spiny lizards (Sceloporus)

John J. Wiens, Tonya A. Penkrot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

513 Scopus citations


Haplotype phylogenies based on DNA sequence data are increasingly being used to test traditional species-level taxonomies based on morphology. However, few studies have critically compared species limits based on morphological and DNA data, and the methods used to delimit species using either type of data are only rarely explained. In this paper, we review three approaches for species delimitation (tree-based with DNA data and tree-based and character-based with morphological data) and propose explicit protocols for each. We then compare species limits inferred from these approaches, using morphological and mtDNA data for the Yarrow's spiny lizard (Sceloporus jarrovii), a traditionally polytypic species from the southwestern United States and Mexico. All three approaches support division of S. jarrovii into five species, but only two species are the same among the three approaches. We find the greatest support for the five species that are delimited based on mtDNA data, and we argue that mtDNA data may have important (and previously unappreciated) advantages for species delimitation. Because different data and approaches can disagree so extensively, our results demonstrate that the methodology of species delimitation is a critical issue in systematics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-91
Number of pages23
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2002


  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Molecular systematics
  • Morphological systematics
  • Nested-clade analysis
  • Phylogeography
  • Population genetics
  • Species limits
  • Taxonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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