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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Molecular phylogenetics and evolutionary history of ariid catfishes revisited: a comprehensive sampling

Ricardo Betancur-R

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, 331 Funchess Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, 36849, USA

Universidad Nacional de Colombia sede Caribe, CECIMAR/INVEMAR, Cerro de Punta Betín, Santa Marta, Colombia

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:175  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-175

Published: 23 July 2009



Ariids or sea catfishes are one of the two otophysan fish families (out of about 67 families in four orders) that inhabit mainly marine and brackish waters (although some species occur strictly in fresh waters). The group includes over 150 species placed in ~29 genera and two subfamilies (Galeichthyinae and Ariinae). Despite their global distribution, ariids are largely restricted to the continental shelves due in part to their specialized reproductive behavior (i.e., oral incubation). Thus, among marine fishes, ariids offer an excellent opportunity for inferring historical biogeographic scenarios. Phylogenetic hypotheses available for ariids have focused on restricted geographic areas and comprehensive phylogenies are still missing. This study inferred phylogenetic hypotheses for 123 ariid species in 28 genera from different biogeographic provinces using both mitochondrial and nuclear sequences (up to ~4 kb).


While the topologies obtained support the monophyly of basal groups, up to ten genera validated in previous morphological studies were incongruent with the molecular topologies. New World ariines were recovered as paraphyletic and Old World ariines were grouped into a well-supported clade that was further divided into subclades mainly restricted to major Gondwanan landmasses. A general area cladogram derived from the area cladograms of ariines and three other fish groups was largely congruent with the geological area cladogram of Gondwana. Nonetheless, molecular clock estimations provided variable results on the timing of ariine diversification (~105-41 mya).


This study provides the most comprehensive phylogeny of sea catfishes to date and highlights the need for re-assessment of their classification. While from a topological standpoint the evolutionary history of ariines is mostly congruent with vicariance associated with the sequence of events during Gondwanan fragmentation, ambiguous divergence time estimations hinders assessing the vicariant hypothesis on a temporal framework. Further examination of ariid fossils might provide the basis for more accurate inferences on the timing of ariine diversification.