• evolution;
  • hybridization;
  • speciation

Fishes are the most speciose group of vertebrates, with more than 24 000 species. They are characterized by great diversity in ecology, morphology, life history, behaviour and physiology. Here, the phylogenetic patterns of orders in which polyploidy has been recorded are considered, with special reference to patterns of species richness and hybridization: these orders include such phylogenetically diverse taxa as the Lepidosireniformes (lungfish) and the Perciformes (perch). Examples, predominantly drawn from the Cyprinidae and Salmonidae, are used to illustrate attributes of polyploidy in fishes. It is concluded (i) that polyploidy may have been of considerable importance in the evolution of fishes, and (ii) that fishes, with their diverse life histories, represent a useful model system with which to test theories relating to the origin and consequences of polyploidy that have been derived from work on plants. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 82, 431–442.