Fighting fish species in the genus Betta are found in several Southeast Asian countries. Depending on the mode of paternal care for fertilized eggs and hatchlings, various species of the betta fish are classified as mouth brooders or nest builders whose members in turn have been grouped according to their similarities mainly in morphology. The mouth brooders as well as some nest builders involved in the present study include fishes discovered and identified subsequent to previous reports on species groupings and their positions on phylogenetic trees based on DNA sequences that differ from those used by us in this study. From the mitochondrial COI gene and nuclear ITS1 gene sequences and more accurate analyses we conclude that the following members of the mouth-brooding pairs, named differently previously, are virtually identical, viz the Betta prima-Betta pallida pair and Betta ferox-Betta apollon pair. The Betta simplex, hitherto believed to be one species, could possibly be genetically split into 2 distinct species. In addition, several other established type-locality fishes could harbor cryptic species as judged by genetic differences. Assignments of fish species to groups reported earlier may have to be altered somewhat by the present genetic findings. We propose here a new Betta fish phylogenetic tree which, albeit being similar to the previous ones, is clearly different from them. Our gene-based evidence also leads to assignments of some fishes to new species groups and alters the positions of some species on the new phylogenetic tree, thus implying different ancestral relationships.
Keywords: Betta fish species; Bubble-nest builder; Cryptic species; Fighting fish; Mouth brooder; Phylogenetic tree; Sister group; Southeast Asia.