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In an effort to provide a framework for the accurate identification of elasmobranchs, driven in large part by the needs of parasitological studies, a comprehensive survey of DNA sequences derived from the mitochondrial NADH2 gene was conducted for elasmobranchs collected from around the world. Analysis was based on sequences derived from 4283 specimens representing an estimated 574 (of ~1221) species (305 sharks, 269 batoids), each represented by 1 to 176 specimens, in 157 (of 193 described) elasmobranch genera in 56 (of 57 described) families of elasmobranchs (only Hypnidae was not represented). A total of 1921 (44.9%) of the samples were represented by vouchers and/or images available in an online host specimen database (http://elasmobranchs.tapewormdb.uconn.edu). A representative sequence for each of the 574 species identified in this survey, as well as an additional 11 sequences for problematic complexes, has been deposited in GenBank.
Neighbor-joining analysis of the data revealed a substantial amount of previously undocumented genetic diversity in elasmobranchs, suggesting 79 potentially new taxa (38 sharks, 41 batoids). Within-species p-distance variation in NADH2-percent sequence divergence ranged from 0 to 2.12 with a mean of 0.27; within-genus p-distance variation ranged from 0.03 to 27.01, with a mean of 10.16. These values are roughly consistent with estimates from prior studies based on barcode COI sequences for elasmobranchs and fishes. While biogeographic influences have likely shaped the diversification of the entire group, the traces left by older influences tend to be overprinted by newer ones. As a result, the most clearly interpretable influences are those associated with recently diverged taxa.
Among closely related elasmobranchs, four regions appear to be of particular importance: (1) the Atlantic Ocean, (2) Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, and Red Sea, (3) Southeast Asia, and (4) Australia. Each of these regions has a substantial proportion of taxa that are genetically distinct from their closest relatives in other regions. These results suggest that great care should be taken in establishing the identities of elasmobranch hosts in parasitological studies. Furthermore, it is likely that many existing host records require confirmation.