BackgroundAntarctic notothenioids are an impressive adaptive radiation. While they share recent common ancestry with several species-depauperate lineages that exhibit a relictual distribution in areas peripheral to the Southern Ocean, an understanding of their evolutionary origins and biogeographic history is limited as the sister lineage of notothenioids remains unidentified. The phylogenetic placement of notothenioids among major lineages of perciform fishes, which include sculpins, rockfishes, sticklebacks, eelpouts, scorpionfishes, perches, groupers and soapfishes, remains unresolved. We investigate the phylogenetic position of notothenioids using DNA sequences of 10 protein coding nuclear genes sampled from more than 650 percomorph species. The biogeographic history of notothenioids is reconstructed using a maximum likelihood method that integrates phylogenetic relationships, estimated divergence times, geographic distributions and paleogeographic history.
ResultsPercophis brasiliensis is resolved, with strong node support, as the notothenioid sister lineage. The species is endemic to the subtropical and temperate Atlantic coast of southern South America. Biogeographic reconstructions imply the initial diversification of notothenioids involved the western portion of the East Gondwanan Weddellian Province. The geographic disjunctions among the major lineages of notothenioids show biogeographic and temporal correspondence with the fragmentation of East Gondwana.
ConclusionsThe phylogenetic resolution of Percophis requires a change in the classification of percomorph fishes and provides evidence for a western Weddellian origin of notothenioids. The biogeographic reconstruction highlights the importance of the geographic and climatic isolation of Antarctica in driving the radiation of cold-adapted notothenioids.