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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2018 Feb;93(1):131-151. doi: 10.1111/brv.12336. Epub 2017 May 2.

Phylogenetic perspectives on reef fish functional traits.

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Depto. de Ecologia e Zoologia, Marine Macroecology and Biogeography Laboratory, CCB, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, 88040-900, Brazil.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, 06511, U.S.A.
Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville 4811, Australia.


Functional traits have been fundamental to the evolution and diversification of entire fish lineages on coral reefs. Yet their relationship with the processes promoting speciation, extinction and the filtering of local species pools remains unclear. We review the current literature exploring the evolution of diet, body size, water column use and geographic range size in reef-associated fishes. Using published and new data, we mapped functional traits on to published phylogenetic trees to uncover evolutionary patterns that have led to the current functional diversity of fishes on coral reefs. When examining reconstructed patterns for diet and feeding mode, we found examples of independent transitions to planktivory across different reef fish families. Such transitions and associated morphological alterations may represent cases in which ecological opportunity for the exploitation of different resources drives speciation and adaptation. In terms of body size, reconstructions showed that both large and small sizes appear multiple times within clades of mid-sized fishes and that extreme body sizes have arisen mostly in the last 10 million years (Myr). The reconstruction of range size revealed many cases of disparate range sizes among sister species. Such range size disparity highlights potential vicariant processes through isolation in peripheral locations. When accounting for peripheral speciation processes in sister pairs, we found a significant relationship between labrid range size and lineage age. The diversity and evolution of traits within lineages is influenced by trait-environment interactions as well as by species and trait-trait interactions, where the presence of a given trait may trigger the development of related traits or behaviours. Our effort to assess the evolution of functional diversity across reef fish clades adds to the burgeoning research focusing on the evolutionary and ecological roles of functional traits. We argue that the combination of a phylogenetic and a functional approach will improve the understanding of the mechanisms of species assembly in extraordinarily rich coral reef communities.


body size; coral reef; diversification; evolution; life-history traits; planktivory; range size; reef fish ecology

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