Phylogeography of Ophioblennius: the role of ocean currents and geography in reef fish evolution

Evolution. 2001 Mar;55(3):561-72. doi: 10.1554/0014-3820(2001)055[0561:pootro];2.


Many tropical reef fishes are divided into Atlantic and East Pacific taxa, placing similar species in two very different biogeographic regimes. The tropical Atlantic is a closed ocean basin with relatively stable currents, whereas the East Pacific is an open basin with unstable oceanic circulation. To assess how evolutionary processes are influenced by these differences in oceanography and geography, we analyze a 630-bp region of mitochondrial cytochrome b from 171 individuals in the blenniid genus Ophioblennius. Our results demonstrate deep genetic structuring in the Atlantic species, O. atlanticus, corresponding to recognized biogeographic provinces, with divergences of d = 5.2-12.7% among the Caribbean, Brazilian, St. Helena/Ascension Island, Gulf of Guinea, and Azores/Cape Verde regions. The Atlantic phylogeny is consistent with Pliocene dispersal from the western to eastern Atlantic, and the depth of these separations (along with prior morphological comparisons) may indicate previously unrecognized species. The eastern Pacific species, O. steindachneri, is characterized by markedly less structure than O. atlanticus, with shallow mitochondrial DNA lineages (dmax = 2.7%) and haplotype frequency shifts between locations in the Sea of Cortez, Pacific Panama, Clipperton Island, and the Galapagos Islands. No concordance between genetic structure and biogeographic provinces was found for O. steincdachneri. We attribute the phylogeographic pattern in O. atlanticus to dispersal during the reorganization of Atlantic circulation patterns that accompanied the shoaling of the Isthmus of Panama. The low degree of structure in the eastern Pacific is probably due to unstable circulation and linkage to the larger Pacific Ocean basin. The contrast in genetic signatures between Atlantic and eastern Pacific blennies demonstrates how differences in geology and oceanography have influenced evolutionary radiations within each region.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Cytochrome b Group / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Environment
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fishes / classification
  • Fishes / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Cytochrome b Group
  • DNA, Mitochondrial