Unraveling a potential cryptic species complex of Polydora colonia and Polydora spongicola through morphology and DNA barcoding

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McGrail, Ophelia
Davinack, Drew
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2023-05
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Marine biological invasions are a critical problem concerning biodiversity and habitat structure in the ocean. Rates of introductions are exacerbated by human activities in our interconnected world such as international shipping, travel, and commercial fishing. Introductions are difficult to track and manage, and this problem is made even more difficult by the existence of cryptic species complexes. These complexes are defined as two or more genetically different species "hiding" under a single species due to morphological or phylogenetic similarities. These complexes can be elucidated using genetic tools such as DNA barcoding. Cryptic invasions may occur if one species in the complex is native to an area, and another species is introduced and becomes established without detection. One group of organisms at the intersection of concerns on invasive species and cryptic species complex is the Polychaeta. The Polychaeta, a group of marine annelid worms, contains cryptic species complexes, some of which are  known to cause ecological and economic damage when introduced. This thesis investigates the possibility that two sponge-boring polychaete species, Polydora colonia and Polydora spongicola, may be part of a cryptic species complex. This question is addressed using DNA barcoding and morphological examination. This thesis is the first genetic study of Polydora colonia. 
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46 pages; illustrations
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