Two-wing flyingfish (Exocoetus spp.) are widely distributed, epipelagic, mid-trophic organisms that feed on zooplankton and are preyed upon by numerous predators (e.g., tunas, dolphinfish, tropical seabirds), yet an understanding of their speciation and systematics is lacking. As a model of epipelagic fish speciation and to investigate mechanisms that increase biodiversity, we studied the phylogeny and biogeography of Exocoetus, a highly abundant holoepipelagic fish taxon of the tropical open ocean. Morphological and molecular data were used to evaluate the phylogenetic relationships, species boundaries, and biogeographic patterns of the five putative Exocoetus species. We show that the most widespread species (E. volitans) is sister to all other species, and we find no evidence for cryptic species in this taxon. Sister relationship between E. monocirrhus (Indo-Pacific) and E. obtusirostris (Atlantic) indicates the Isthmus of Panama and/or Benguela Barrier may have played a role in their divergence via allopatric speciation. The sister species E. peruvianus and E. gibbosus are found in different regions of the Pacific Ocean; however, our molecular results do not show a clear distinction between these species, indicating recent divergence or ongoing gene flow. Overall, our phylogeny reveals that the most spatially restricted species are more recently derived, suggesting that allopatric barriers may drive speciation, but subsequent dispersal and range expansion may affect the distributions of species.
- cryptic speciation
- species delimitation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation