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Open Access Research article

Phylogeny and biogeography of a shallow water fish clade (Teleostei: Blenniiformes)

Hsiu-Chin Lin12* and Philip A Hastings1

Author Affiliations

1 Marine Biology Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA

2 Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, Taipei 115, Taiwan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:210  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-210

Published: 25 September 2013



The Blenniiformes comprises six families, 151 genera and nearly 900 species of small teleost fishes closely associated with coastal benthic habitats. They provide an unparalleled opportunity for studying marine biogeography because they include the globally distributed families Tripterygiidae (triplefin blennies) and Blenniidae (combtooth blennies), the temperate Clinidae (kelp blennies), and three largely Neotropical families (Labrisomidae, Chaenopsidae, and Dactyloscopidae). However, interpretation of these distributional patterns has been hindered by largely unresolved inter-familial relationships and the lack of evidence of monophyly of the Labrisomidae.


We explored the phylogenetic relationships of the Blenniiformes based on one mitochondrial (COI) and four nuclear (TMO-4C4, RAG1, Rhodopsin, and Histone H3) loci for 150 blenniiform species, and representative outgroups (Gobiesocidae, Opistognathidae and Grammatidae). According to the consensus of Bayesian Inference, Maximum Likelihood, and Maximum Parsimony analyses, the monophyly of the Blenniiformes and the Tripterygiidae, Blenniidae, Clinidae, and Dactyloscopidae is supported. The Tripterygiidae is the sister group of all other blennies, and the Blenniidae is the sister group of the remaining blennies. The monophyly of the Labrisomidae is supported with the exclusion of the Cryptotremini and inclusion of Stathmonotus, and we elevate two subgenera of Labrisomus to establish a monophyletic classification within the family. The monophyly of the Chaenopsidae is supported with the exclusion of Stathmonotus (placed in the Stathmonotini) and Neoclinus and Mccoskerichthys (placed in the Neoclinini). The origin of the Blenniiformes was estimated in the present-day IndoPacific region, corresponding to the Tethys Sea approximately 60.3 mya. A largely Neotropical lineage including the Labrisomidae, Chaenopsidae and Dactyloscopidae (node IV) evolved around 37.6 mya when the Neotropics were increasingly separated from the IndoPacific, but well before the closure of the Tethys Sea.


Relationships recovered in this study are similar to those of earlier analyses within the Clinidae and Chaenopsidae, and partially similar within the Blenniidae, but tripterygiid relationships remain poorly resolved. We present the first comprehensive phylogenetic hypothesis for a monophyletic Labrisomidae with five tribes (Labrisomini, Mnierpini, Paraclinini, Stathmonotini and Starksiini). Global distributions of blenny genera included in our analysis support the evolution of a largely Neotropical clade whose closest relatives (clinids and cryptotremines) are temperate in distribution.

Tripterygiidae; Blenniidae; Labrisomidae; Clinidae; Dactyloscopidae; Chaenopsidae; Neotropics; Tethys sea; Biogeography