Ariid or sea catfishes include around 150 species that inhabit marine, brackish, and freshwater environments along world's tropical and subtropical continental shelves. Phylogenetic relationships for 46 New World and three Old World species of ariids were hypothesized using maximum parsimony and Bayesian inference reconstruction criteria on 2842 mitochondrial (cytochrome b, ATP synthase 8 and 6, ribosomal 12S and 16S) and 978 nuclear (rag2) nucleotide sites. The molecular topologies were compared to a previously compiled morphological dataset that was expanded herein to a total of 25 ariid species and 55 characters. Mitochondrial data yielded clades highly resolved at subfamilial, generic, and intrageneric levels. Nuclear rag2 reconstructions showed poor resolution at supra- and intrageneric levels, but provided support for the monophyly of most genera (except Ariopsis and Cathorops) as well as for the subfamilial clades. The hypothesized phylogeny derived from the morphological data was congruent with the molecular topologies at infrafamilial and generic levels. As indicated by the statistical tests of topological congruence, Kailola's phylogenetic hypothesis of ariids based on anatomical data is significantly different from our molecular trees. All reconstructions agree in the division of the Ariidae into two subfamilies, the Ariinae and the monogeneric Galeichthyinae. Basal ariine resolution was negligible suggesting that early diversification events occurred rapidly. The three Indo-Pacific taxa were grouped into a clade, but New World ariines were never recovered as monophyletic. We provide a revised classification for New World ariines examined, which is consistent with the molecular and the morphological evidence. Our classification scheme includes the genera Ariopsis, Bagre, Cathorops, Notarius, Potamarius, and Sciades, and the description of two new genus-level taxa (Occidentarius n. gen and Precathorops n. subgen.). We also hypothesize plausible biogeographic scenarios that explain distributional patterns of major ariid lineages. Diversification of the predominantly circumtropical ariines likely occurred throughout the Tethys Sea, whereas speciation events in the subtropical galeichthyines were probably tied to the southern coast of Gondwana. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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