Correct taxonomy is a prerequisite for biological research, but currently it is undergoing a serious crisis, resulting in the neglect of many highly diverse groups of organisms. In nematodes, species delimitation remains problematic due to their high morphological plasticity. Evolutionary approaches using DNA sequences can potentially overcome the problems caused by morphology, but they are also affected by theoretical flaws. A holistic approach with a combination of morphological and molecular methods can therefore produce a straightforward delimitation of species. The present study investigates the taxonomic status of some highly divergent mitochondrial haplotypes in the Rhabditis (Pellioditis) marina species complex by using a combination of molecular and morphological tools. We used three molecular markers (COI, ITS, D2D3) and performed phylogenetic analyses. Subsequently, morphometric data from nearly all lineages were analysed with multivariate techniques. We included R. (P.) mediterranea and R. (R.) nidrosiensis to infer species status of the observed lineages. The results showed that highly divergent genotypic clusters were accompanied by morphological differences, and we created a graphical polytomous key for identifications. This study indisputably demonstrates that R. (P.) marina and R. (P.) mediterranea belong to a huge species complex and that biodiversity in free-living marine nematodes may be seriously underestimated. (C) 2008 The Linnean Society of London.