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Do individual and combined data analyses of molecules and morphology reveal the generic status of 'Pachysoma' MacLeay (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae)?

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Scarabaeus (Pachysoma) comprises 13 flightless dung beetle species endemic to the west coast of southern Africa that are biologically unique and have a variable taxonomic history at the generic level. Initially considered a valid genus Pachysoma was subsequently synonymised with the genus Scarabaeus and later assigned sub-generic status within this genus. In an attempt to resolve past taxonomic inconsistencies, morphological and molecular data partitions, and combinations thereof, were analysed and compared across different phylogenetic inference methods. Trees obtained from the individual datasets which comprised 64 morphological characters and 1197 nucleotide sites of the mitochondrial Cytochrome Oxidase I (COI) gene, were less well-resolved than those obtained from analyses in which the data partitions were combined whilst Bayesian inference generally out-performed parsimony. However, both the individual and combined data partitions, irrespective of the method of analysis, confirmed the monophyly of the Pachysoma lineage. The relative contribution of each data partition to individual nodes as assessed by positive partitioned Bremer support values was 6:5:4 for the molecular:combined:morphological data partitions. However, in terms of contribution to the resolution of terminal versus internal nodes, the morphological dataset made proportionally the greatest contribution and was crucial for recovering a sister relationship of Pachysoma to Scarabaeus, i.e. a generic level, rather than a sub-generic one. This together with the monophyly of the Pachysoma lineage across all methods of analysis and data partitions as well as the unique morphology and biology of its constituent species warrants reinstatement of Pachysoma to its former full generic status.


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