Macroevolutionary analysis of the tempo of diversification in snappers and fusiliers (Percomorpha: Lutjanidae)

Bruno Frédérich, Francesco Santini


The percomorph fish family Lutjanidae (snappers and fusiliers) includes about 135 reef-dwelling species, mainly confined to tropical and subtropical marine waters. The great majority of snappers are active predators feeding on fishes or crustaceans, even though some species, including the fusiliers (Caesioninae), have evolved zooplanktivory. Lutjanids show a great diversity of habitat preferences, based on depth segregation and distribution across reef and associated habitats (e.g., mangroves, seagrass beds, estuaries). In spite of their great ecological and economic importance little is known about the tempo of evolution in this group. The present study provides the most comprehensive molecular phylogeny to date for lutjanids, including 70% of extant species and 19 of the 21 currently described genera. We time-calibrated our molecular tree using the oldest described lutjanid fossils, and show how this group most likely originated during the Late Cretaceous or Early Paleocene. Lutjanids experienced a significant radiation during the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene, in contrast to a pattern of Late Oligocene/Miocene radiation observed in many other reef-associated groups. The time-tree allows us to investigate the tempo of diversification, and our results suggest a variation in the rate of speciation during the evolution of the major clade formed by “lutjanins and caesionins”. Variation in diet and life history strategies could explain this clade-specific dynamic, although future phylogenetic comparative studies combining additional ecological and morphological data are needed to test this hypothesis.


Lutjanus; phylogeny; ecological radiation; lineage diversification; molecular clock

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