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Shape variation in surface and cave populations of the armoured catfishes Ancistrus(Siluriformes: Loricariidae) from the São Domingos karst area, upper Tocantins River, Brazil


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Body shape of four distinct populations of Ancistrus cryptophthalmus from different caves in the São Domingos karst area and the local epigean (surface)Ancistrus species were compared using geometric morphometrics. Angélica and Bezerra catfishes were closer to each other and successively to the studied sample of epigean catfishes than to Passa Três and São Vicente I catfishes. Greater similarity between catfishes from the Angélica-Bezerra cave system to epigean catfishes than to other cave catfishes may represent a plesiomorphic feature. On the other hand, the present analyses allowed the distinction between Passa Três and São Vicente I catfishes, which inhabited the same cave system. Topographic isolation due to the presence of several waterfalls interposed between the stream reaches where these catfishes live may explain such morphological differentiation. Also, the presence of a waterfall downstream of the reach where the Angélica sample was obtained may have contributed to the partial isolation of these catfishes from those living in Bezerra Cave. Differences in population sizes probably influenced the degrees of morphological differentiation observed among the cave populations. The mosaic distribution of character states indicated that the four populations of A. cryptophthalmus have evolved rather independently, but the continuous variation suggests a recent connection between these populations, perhaps with a limited gene flow. Considering other features such as reduction of eyes and pigmentation, and changes in body shape, a separate species status for the epigean and hypogean Ancistrus species from the São Domingos karst area has been maintained.

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