Morphological variation in taxonomic characters of the Antarctic starfish Odontaster validus
Morphologies of animals can vary significantly, and variation in characters in relation to taxonomic discrimination is often either underestimated or not evaluated. It can, however, make the identification and separation of species on morphological criteria less sound. Here, we investigate variation in morphological characters used to separate species of the Antarctic starfish genus Odontaster. Three closely related species in this genus have recently been identified using molecular barcoding (Odontaster validus, Odontaster roseus and Odontaster pearsei), and their morphologies have also been reported to be distinct, allowing them to be identified as separate species and not cryptic on morphological criteria. Our study shows that variation in overall shape, colour and for the number of spinelets on the abactinal plates of individuals in a single population of O. validus collected from one locality covers the whole range of that reported for O. roseus and overlaps that of O. pearsei. These may be separate species at the molecular level, but care needs to be used when using morphological criteria to separate them, and more care is needed to include assessment of morphological variation when constructing taxonomic keys for these species.
Authors: Peck, Lloyd S., Clark, Melody S., Dunn, Nicholas I.