Genetic analysis reveals Finnish Formica fennica populations do not form a separate genetic entity from F. exsecta
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CitationHakala, SM. Seppä, P. Heikkilä, M. Punttila, P. Sorvari, J. Helanterä, H. (2018). Genetic analysis reveals Finnish Formica fennica populations do not form a separate genetic entity from F. exsecta. PeerJ, (6) , e6013. 10.7717/peerj.6013.
Coptoformica Müller, 1923 is a subgenus of Formica Linnaeus, 1758 that consists of c. a dozen species of ants that typically inhabit open grassy habitats and build small nest mounds. The most recent addition to the group is Formica fennica Seifert, 2000. The description was based on morphological characters, but the species status has not been confirmed by molecular methods. In this study, we use thirteen DNA microsatellite markers and a partial mitochondrial COI gene sequence to assess the species status of F. fennica, by comparing the genetic variation among samples identified as F. fennica and six other boreal Formica (Coptoformica) species. Most of the species studied form separate, discontinuous clusters in phylogenetic and spatial analyses with only little intraspecific genetic variation. However, both nuclear and mitochondrial markers fail to separate the species pair F. exsecta Nylander, 1846 and F. fennica despite established morphological differences. The genetic variation within the F. exsecta/fennica group is extensive, but reflects spatial rather than morphological differences. Finnish F. fennica populations studied so far should not be considered a separate species, but merely a morph of F. exsecta.