Molecular phylogenetics of the butterflyfishes (Chaetodontidae): taxonomy and biogeography of a global coral reef fish family. Academic Article uri icon


  • Marine butterflyfishes (10 genera, 114 species) are conspicuously beautiful and abundant animals found on coral reefs worldwide, and are well studied due to their ecological importance and commercial value. Several phylogenies based on morphological and molecular data exist, yet a well-supported molecular phylogeny at the species level for a wide range of taxa remains to be resolved. Here we present a molecular phylogeny of the butterflyfishes, including representatives of all genera (except Parachaetodon) and at least one representative of all commonly cited subgenera of Chaetodon (except Roa sensuBlum, 1988). Genetic data were collected for 71 ingroup and 13 outgroup taxa, using two nuclear and three mitochondrial genes that total 3332 nucleotides. Bayesian inference, parsimony, and maximum likelihood methods produced a well-supported phylogeny with strong support for a monophyletic Chaetodontidae. The Chaetodon subgenera Exornator and Chaetodon were found to be polyphyletic, and the genus Amphichaetodon was not the basal sister group to the rest of the family as had been previously proposed. Molecular phylogenetic analysis of data from 5 genes resolved some clades in agreement with previous phylogenetic studies, however the topology of relationships among major butterflyfish groups differed significantly from previous hypotheses. The analysis recovered a clade containing Amphichaetodon, Coradion, Chelmonops, Chelmon, Forcipiger, Hemitaurichthys, Johnrandallia, and Heniochus. Prognathodes was resolved as the sister to all Chaetodon, as in previous hypotheses, although the topology of subgeneric clades differed significantly from hypotheses based on morphology. We use the species-level phylogeny for the butterflyfishes to resolve long-standing questions regarding the use of subgenera in Chaetodon, to reconstruct molecular rates and estimated dates of diversification of major butterflyfish clades, and to examine global biogeographic patterns.

publication date

  • October 2007