Morphological convergence plays a central role in the study of evolution. Often induced by shared ecological specialization, homoplasy hints at underlying selective pressures and adaptive constraints that deterministically shape the diversification of life. Though midwater zooplanktivory has arisen in adult surgeonfishes (family Acanthuridae) at least four independent times, it represents a clearly specialized state, requiring the capacity to swiftly swim in midwater locating and sucking small prey items. While this diet has commonly been associated with specific functional adaptations in fishes, acanthurids present an interesting case study as all other species feed by grazing on benthic algae and detritus, requiring a vastly different functional morphology that emphasizes biting behaviors. We examined the feeding morphology in 30 acanthurid species and, combined with a pre-existing phylogenetic tree, compared the fit of evolutionary models across two diet regimes: zooplanktivores and non-zooplanktivorous grazers. Accounting for phylogenetic relationships, the best-fitting model indicates that zooplanktivorous species are converging on a separate adaptive peak from their grazing relatives. Driving this bimodal landscape, zooplanktivorous acanthurids tend to develop a slender body, reduced facial features, smaller teeth, and weakened jaw adductor muscles. However, despite these phenotypic changes, model fitting suggests that lineages have not yet reached the adaptive peak associated with plankton feeding even though some transitions appear to be over 10 million years old. These findings demonstrate that the selective demands of pelagic feeding promote repeated—albeit very gradual—ecomorphological convergence within surgeonfishes, while allowing local divergences between closely related species, contributing to the overall diversity of the clade.
|Date made available||2016|