Phylogeny of Australian Saprinus spp. Erichson (Coleoptera: Histeridae) - contrasting ecological, morphological and molecular data

Jocelyn King *1, Markus Riegler 1, Robert Spooner-Hart 1

1 University of Western Sydney, 61 Edinburgh Cct, Cecil Hills, 2171, NSW, Australia

The genus Saprinus Erichson (Coleoptera: Histeridae) is a highly conspicuous taxon of predatory beetles often observed on mammalian carcasses throughout Australia. Recent studies in Richmond, NSW found that due to the relatively predictable presence of Saprinus spp. and other Saprininae at carrion throughout the year, these taxa may provide potential as indicators for estimating the post mortem interval. Their preference for feeding on dipteran maggots and pupae also makes them potentially important biological control agents. However, the identification and classification of many of the taxa within the subfamily of Saprininae based on morphology alone is difficult and remains unresolved. This is especially evident for the species currently identified as Saprinus australis, S. cyaneus, S. pseudocyaneus and their existing synonyms.  We therefore utilised available information about morphology as well as molecular techniques in an attempt to clarify the identification and classification of the Australian Saprinus spp. This was achieved using fresh, field-collected, as well as dry museum specimens. Initial results utilising the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) and nuclear 18S rRNA genes have shown that the current classification of the genus Saprinus, based on morphology, is polyphyletic. Despite the previous synonymisation of S. cyaneus and S. laetus the current study has shown that they are, separate species. This study also shows that while S. cyaneus and S. pseudocyaneus have previously been differentiated morphologically, they are indistinguishable on the basis of COI and 18S genes. Further work on other Saprinus spp. and other genera in the Saprininae will attempt to further elucidate the identity and phylogeny of this important beetle subfamily.

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