Framing the Salmonidae family phylogenetic portrait: a more complete picture from increased taxon sampling

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e46662. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046662. Epub 2012 Oct 5.


Considerable research efforts have focused on elucidating the systematic relationships among salmonid fishes; an understanding of these patterns of relatedness will inform conservation- and fisheries-related issues, as well as provide a framework for investigating evolutionary mechanisms in the group. However, uncertainties persist in current Salmonidae phylogenies due to biological and methodological factors, and a comprehensive phylogeny including most representatives of the family could provide insight into the causes of these difficulties. Here we increase taxon sampling by including nearly all described salmonid species (n = 63) to present a time-calibrated and more complete portrait of Salmonidae using a combination of molecular markers and analytical techniques. This strategy improved resolution by increasing the signal-to-noise ratio and helped discriminate methodological and systematic errors from sources of difficulty associated with biological processes. Our results highlight novel aspects of salmonid evolution. First, we call into question the widely-accepted evolutionary relationships among sub-families and suggest that Thymallinae, rather than Coregoninae, is the sister group to the remainder of Salmonidae. Second, we find that some groups in Salmonidae are older than previously thought and that the mitochondrial rate of molecular divergence varies markedly among genes and clades. We estimate the age of the family to be 59.1 MY (CI: 63.2-58.1 MY) old, which likely corresponds to the timing of whole genome duplication in salmonids. The average, albeit highly variable, mitochondrial rate of molecular divergence was estimated as ~0.31%/MY (CI: 0.27-0.36%/MY). Finally, we suggest that some species require taxonomic revision, including two monotypic genera, Stenodus and Salvethymus. In addition, we resolve some relationships that have been notoriously difficult to discern and present a clearer picture of the evolution of the group. Our findings represent an important contribution to the systematics of Salmonidae, and provide a useful tool for addressing questions related to fundamental and applied evolutionary issues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cytochromes b / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / genetics
  • Fish Proteins / genetics
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Models, Genetic
  • Multilocus Sequence Typing
  • Phylogeny*
  • Salmonidae / classification
  • Salmonidae / genetics*
  • Signal-To-Noise Ratio


  • Fish Proteins
  • Cytochromes b
  • Electron Transport Complex IV

Grant support

Funding sources that supported this work were the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Canada Research Chairs. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.