Accurate species delimitation is crucial for our understanding of evolution, biodiversity and conservation. However, morphology-based species delimitation alone appears to be prone to taxonomic errors and ineffective for taxa with high interspecific morphological homogeneity or intraspecific morphological variations, as is the case for mesothele and mygalomorph spiders. Combined molecular–morphology species delimitation has shown great potential to delimit species boundaries in such ancient lineages. In the present study, molecular and morphological evidence were integrated to delimit species of the primitively segmented spider genus Songthela Ono, 2000. The cytochrome c oxidase subunit I gene (COI) was sequenced for 192 novel specimens belonging to 12 putative morphospecies. The evolutionary relationships within Songthela and the 12-morphospecies hypothesis were tested in two steps – species discovery and species validation – using four single-locus species delimitation approaches. All species delimitation analyses supported the 12-species hypothesis. Phylogenetic analyses yielded three major clades in Songthela, which are consistent with morphology. Accordingly, we assigned 19 known and 11 new species (S. aokoulong, sp. nov., S. bispina, sp. nov., S. dapo, sp. nov., S. huayanxi, sp. nov., S. lianhe, sp. nov., S. lingshang, sp. nov., S. multidentata, sp. nov., S. tianmen, sp. nov., S. unispina, sp. nov., S. xiujian, sp. nov., S. zizhu, sp. nov.) of Songthela to three species-groups: the bispina-group, the multidentata-group and the unispina-group. Another new species, S. zimugang, sp. nov., is not included in any species groups, but forms a sister lineage to the bispina- and unispina-groups. These results elucidate a high species diversity of Songthela in a small area and demonstrate that integrating morphology with COI-based species delimitation is fast and cost-effective in delimiting species boundaries.
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Vol. 36 • No. 2