North African odonates are facing conservation challenges, not only by increased degradation and loss of habitat, but also by having poorly understood taxonomy. Coenagrion puella is a widely distributed damselfly but there is debate about the taxonomic status of North African populations, where the species is very rare. We evaluate the genetic distinctiveness of North African C. puella using mitochondrial and nuclear genetic markers. We found a clear genetic differentiation between North African and European populations (3.4 % mtDNA) and a lack of shared haplotypes between individuals from the two continents. These results suggest that the damselfly C. puella comprises two genetically distinct phylogenetic lineages: one in Europe and one in North Africa, and re-invigorate the debate on the validity of the North African endemic C. puella kocheri. We propose that these two lineages of C. puella should be managed as distinct molecular operational taxonomic units. More generally, this study reinforces the important role of North Africa as centre of speciation and differentiation for odonates, and highlights the relevance of incorporating genetic data to understand the evolutionary history and taxonomy for effective biodiversity conservation.
Journal: Conservation Genetics