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J Mol Evol. 2002 Jun;54(6):754-62.

Evolution of trophic types in emperor fishes ( Lethrinus, Lethrinidae, Percoidei) based on cytochrome B gene sequence variation.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529, USA.


Three trophic categories exist within emperor fishes, genus Lethrinus, relating to body form and dentition type. One group contains low-bodied, high speed, stalking predators with conical teeth. Another group comprises high-bodied, slow speed carnivores with molariform teeth capable of crushing hard-shelled benthic prey. A third group is also high-bodied but with conical teeth feeding mostly on small or soft-shelled benthic prey. Inferring the evolution of these trophic types within Lethrinus using morphology is problematic since these characters are typically correlated with feeding mode and are potentially homoplasious. We use mitochondrial DNA sequences, to independently determine a phylogenetic hypothesis for Lethrinus, which are not dependent on morphological characters relating to trophic categories. We analyzed complete cytochrome b gene sequences (1140 bp) for 20 species of Lethrinus, representing the three trophic types, and for 13 outgroup species, including four other representatives of the Lethrinidae. A monophyletic Lethrinidae did not resolve, but the monophyly of Lethrinus is well supported. In addition, two major clades within Lethrinus are well supported. One of these clades exclusively contains low-bodied species with conical teeth while the other clade only comprises the high-bodied species with molariform teeth. A high-bodied species with conical teeth, Lethrinus miniatus, appears most ancestral and sister to all other Lethrinus species. We hypothesize that this generalist trophic type was the evolutionary precursor to both of the other primary trophic types.

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