Cryptic Species Due to Hybridization: A Combined Approach to Describe a New Species (Carex: Cyperaceae)

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Disappearance of diagnostic morphological characters due to hybridization is considered to be one of the causes of the complex taxonomy of the species-rich (ca. 2000 described species) genus Carex (Cyperaceae). Carex furva s.l. belongs to section Glareosae. It is an endemic species from the high mountains of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Previous studies suggested the existence of two different, cryptic taxa within C. furva s.l. Intermediate morphologies found in the southern Iberian Peninsula precluded the description of a new taxa. We aimed to determine whether C. furva s.l. should be split into two different species based on the combination of morphological and molecular data. We sampled ten populations across its full range and performed a morphological study based on measurements on herbarium specimens and silica-dried inflorescences. Both morphological and phylogenetic data support the existence of two different species within C. furva s.l. Nevertheless, intermediate morphologies and sterile specimens were found in one of the southern populations (Sierra Nevada) of C. furva s.l., suggesting the presence of hybrid populations in areas where both supposed species coexist. Hybridization between these two putative species has blurred morphological and genetic limits among them in this hybrid zone. We have proved the utility of combining molecular and morphological data to discover a new cryptic species in a scenario of hybridization. We now recognize a new species, C. lucennoiberica, endemic to the Iberian Peninsula (Sierra Nevada, Central system and Cantabrian Mountains). On the other hand, C. furva s.s. is distributed only in Sierra Nevada, where it may be threatened by hybridization with C. lucennoiberica. The restricted distribution of both species and their specific habitat requirements are the main limiting factors for their conservation.
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PLoS One, vol 11, nº12, e0166949
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