Morphological assessment of the Octopus vulgaris species complex evaluated in light of molecular-based phylogenetic inferences

Michael D. Amor, Mark D. Norman, Alvaro Roura, Tatiana S. Leite, Ian G. Gleadall, Amanda Reid, Catalina Perales-Raya, Chung Cheng Lu, Colin J. Silvey, Erica A.G. Vidal, Frederick G. Hochberg, Xiaodong Zheng, Jan M. Strugnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Cryptic species are common in the ocean, particularly among marine invertebrates such as octopuses. Delineating cryptic species is particularly problematic in octopus taxonomy where the plasticity recorded among taxonomic characters often results in low resolution at the species level. This study investigated the morphological relationships among seven phylogenetic clades (identified using cytochrome c oxidase subunit I) of the broadly distributed Octopus vulgaris species complex and close relatives. Morphological analyses in this study were successful in delimiting O. sinensis, Brazilian O. vulgaris and O. vulgaris sensu stricto, which was congruent with the molecular findings of this study. Analyses based on male morphology were successful in distinguishing 14 of 15 total pairwise comparisons and proved to be a more reliable indicator of species-level relationships in comparison with female morphology. The majority of characters with the greatest discriminatory power were male sexual traits. Significant morphological differences were also recorded among sampling localities of conspecifics, with phenotype showing correlation with local environmental data. The findings of this study support the hypothesis that multiple O. vulgaris-like species are currently being incorrectly treated under a single species name, O. vulgaris. Octopuses being exported globally under the name O. vulgaris are of extremely high fisheries market value and profile. Our findings have potentially significant implications for the naming and conservation of commercially harvested members of this species complex throughout their ranges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-288
Number of pages14
JournalZoologica Scripta
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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