Phylogenomics and body shape morphometrics reveal recent diversification in the goatfishes (Syngnatharia: Mullidae)

Chloe M. Nash:, Linnea L. Lungstrom, Lily C. Hughes, Mark W. Westneat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Clades of marine fishes exhibit many patterns of diversification, ranging from relatively constant throughout time to rapid changes in the rates of speciation and extinction. The goatfishes (Syngnatharia: Mullidae) are a family of marine, reef associated fishes with a relatively recent origin, distributed globally in tropical and temperate waters. Despite their abundance and economic importance, the goatfishes remain one of the few coral reef families for which the species level relationships have not been examined using genomic techniques. Here we use phylogenomic analysis of ultra-conserved elements (UCE) and exon data to resolve a well-supported, time-calibrated phylogeny for 72 species of goatfishes, supporting a recent crown age of the goatfishes at 21.9 million years ago. We used this framework to test hypotheses about the associations among body shape morphometrics, taxonomy, and phylogeny, as well as to explore relative diversification rates across the phylogeny. Body shape was strongly associated with generic-level taxonomy of goatfishes, with morphometric analyses showing evidence for high phylogenetic signal across all morphotypes. Rates of diversification in this clade reveal a recent sharp increase in lineage accumulation, with 92% of the goatfish species sampled across all clades and major body plans having originated in just the past 5 million years. We suggest that habitat diversity in the early Pliocene oceans and the generalist ecology of goatfishes are key factors in the unusual evolutionary tempo of the family Mullidae.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107616
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Aug 24 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2022-09-14
Acknowledgements: We thank the following people and institutions for providing preserved tissues for genomic sequencing: Mark McGrouther, Amanda Hay, and Joey DiBattista from the Australian Museum (AMS), Richard Pyle and Ken Hayes from the Bishop Museum of Natural History (BPBM), Luiz Rocha from the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), Alistair Graham and Will White from CSIRO, Hiroyuki Motomura from the Kagoshima University Museum (KAUM), Michael Berumen from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Andy Bentley and Leo Smith from the University of Kansas (KU), Prosanta Chakrabarty from Louisiana State University Museum of Zoology (LSUMZ), and Amanda Gura, Wouter Holleman, and Gavin Gouws from the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). Additional tissues were generously donated from personal collections by Arthur Bos and Giacomo Bernardi. We especially thank Caleb McMahan, Susan Mochel, and Kevin Swagel from the Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH) for their assistance in tissue storage, preparation, and shipping. Additionally, we thank Rose Peterson (George Washington University) for assisting with DNA extractions. We thank Andrew George (University of Chicago), Aintzane Santaquiteria (University of Oklahoma), Michael Coates (University of Chicago), and Graham Slater (University of Chicago) for their generous and insightful comments throughout the progress of this study. We also thank Cameron Hill (Wesleyan University) for incredibly helpful discussions and advice on morphometrics related statistics and Franz Uiblein (Institute of Marine Research, Norway) for taxonomic input during the review process. We used the Midway2 high performance computing cluster operated by the Research Computing Center at the University of Chicago for all genomic analyses used in this research. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation DEB 1541547 and by the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago.
This publication acknowledges KAUST support, but has no KAUST affiliated authors.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology


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