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Keywords:

  • Caribbean;
  • color morph;
  • coral-reef fish;
  • distribution;
  • evolution;
  • hamlets;
  • Hypoplectrus;
  • presence/absence data;
  • Serranidae;
  • speciation

Abstract

The reef-associated fish genus Hypoplectrus (Serranidae), endemic to the western Atlantic Ocean, represents an ideal model to study speciation within a potentially highly dispersive (marine) ecosystem, because it consists of a complex of at least 10 morphs differentiated primarily by coloration. Although several recent studies on genetics, diet, and fertilization reveal little to no difference between the Hypoplectrus color morphs, there is still not a full understanding of what keeps these morphs distinct or drives their variation. Ecological information is needed alongside the genetic information to better understand this variation. Based on presence/absence records from scientific literature and direct observations in coral reefs, this work examined the distribution of the genus Hypoplectrus in the Greater Caribbean region. Some color morphs occurred simultaneously at given locations, but others showed geographic restrictions. Using cluster and nMDS analyses, we found three major groupings according to distribution: (i) widespread (Hypoplectrus puella, Hypoplectrus unicolor, and Hypoplectrus nigricans), (ii) less widespread (Hypoplectrus indigo, Hypoplectrus gummigutta, Hypoplectrus chlorurus, Hypoplectrus aberrans, and Hypoplectrus guttavarius), and (iii) geographically confined or segregated (Hypoplectrus gemma, Hypoplectrus providencianus). Geographic sections selected for the Greater Caribbean (eastern, western and northern) were dominated by at least three widely distributed Hypoplectrus morphs. New geographic records of some color morphs were documented and compared to previous established distribution ranges in the Greater Caribbean.