Morphologically cryptic species confounding ecological studies of the caddisfly genus Gumaga (Sericostomatidae) in northern California

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Jackson, J.K., and V.H. Resh. 1998. Aquatic Insects 20(2):69–84.



Two species in the caddisfly genus Gumaga (Sericostomatidae) are currently recognized in North America: Gumaga nigricula (McLachlan, 1871) and Gumaga griseola (McLachlan, 1871). Ecological and morphological studies over the last 20 years indicated that both species were either extremely variable or that morphologically cryptic species were unknowingly being included in the studies. The study reported here examined whether genetic characters (as measures of reproductive isolation and genetic differentiation) could resolve the taxonomic issues concerning Gumaga, and consequently provide insight into the observed ecological and morphological variation. Allozyme electrophoresis was used to examine the genetic relationships among larvae of Gumaga collected from five streams and two springbrooks in northern California. For each specimen, 18 enzymes representing 21 presumptive gene loci were scored. Genetic variability was high at all but one site: 14.3–47.6% of the loci were polymorphic (3–10 loci per site) and heterozygosity averaged 5.9–20.7%. Six genetically distinct groups of individuals were identified (i.e., Gumaga types A, B, C, D, E, F). Mean Nei’s genetic distances between groups ranged from 0.371 (type A versus type B) to >1.0 (type F versus types A, B, D, or E). The high degree of genetic differentiation among groups is maintained even when the groups are in close proximity (e.g., Gumaga types A and E at the same site and Gumaga types A, B, and C within the same drainage basin). In addition, previous studies have found evidence of premating mechanisms that limit interbreeding among Gumaga types A, B, and D. Thus, it appears that these six groups represent reproductively isolated species rather than genetic variants of one or two species. Extensive morphological and genetic studies are necessary to clarify taxonomic relationships within the genus Gumaga, but the results of this and other genetic analyses of aquatic insects illustrate the potential insight that this approach can provide to taxonomic, behavioral, and ecological studies. Furthermore, these results also illustrate how unusual (and what is often perceived as interesting) ecological variability observed for a single species may in fact reflect the presence of morphologically cryptic species.