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The phylogenetic significance of colour patterns in marine teleost larvae


The phylogenetic significance of colour patterns in marine teleost larvae



Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 168(3): 496-563



ISSN/ISBN: 0024-4082

PMID: 24039297

DOI: 10.1111/zoj.12033

Ichthyologists, natural-history artists, and tropical-fish aquarists have described, illustrated, or photographed colour patterns in adult marine fishes for centuries, but colour patterns in marine fish larvae have largely been neglected. Yet the pelagic larval stages of many marine fishes exhibit subtle to striking, ephemeral patterns of chromatophores that warrant investigation into their potential taxonomic and phylogenetic significance. Colour patterns in larvae of over 200 species of marine teleosts, primarily from the western Caribbean, were examined from digital colour photographs, and their potential utility in elucidating evolutionary relationships at various taxonomic levels was assessed. Larvae of relatively few basal marine teleosts exhibit erythrophores, xanthophores, or iridophores (i.e. nonmelanistic chromatophores), but one or more of those types of chromatophores are visible in larvae of many basal marine neoteleosts and nearly all marine percomorphs. Whether or not the presence of nonmelanistic chromatophores in pelagic marine larvae diagnoses any major teleost taxonomic group cannot be determined based on the preliminary survey conducted, but there is a trend toward increased colour from elopomorphs to percomorphs. Within percomorphs, patterns of nonmelanistic chromatophores may help resolve or contribute evidence to existing hypotheses of relationships at multiple levels of classification. Mugilid and some beloniform larvae share a unique ontogenetic transformation of colour pattern that lends support to the hypothesis of a close relationship between them. Larvae of some tetraodontiforms and lophiiforms are strikingly similar in having the trunk enclosed in an inflated sac covered with xanthophores, a character that may help resolve the relationships of these enigmatic taxa. Colour patterns in percomorph larvae also appear to diagnose certain groups at the interfamilial, familial, intergeneric, and generic levels. Slight differences in generic colour patterns, including whether the pattern comprises xanthophores or erythrophores, often distinguish species. The homology, ontogeny, and possible functional significance of colour patterns in larvae are discussed. Considerably more investigation of larval colour patterns in marine teleosts is needed to assess fully their value in phylogenetic reconstruction.

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