Reassessment of morphological characteristics in freshwater eels (genus Anguilla, Anguillidae) shows congruence with molecular phylogeny estimates


Yeong-Shin Lin & Jenn-Kang Hwang, Department of Biotechnology, National Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu, Taiwan 300, R.O.C. E-mail: or E-mail:

Chyng-Shyan Tzeng, Department of Life Science, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan 300, R.O.C.


The morphology-based phylogeny of freshwater eels, proposed by V. Ege in 1939, has been accepted as the basis of eel classification since that time. However, this has been called into question by recent molecular studies. Most of the morphological characteristics recognized by Ege are morphometric. Since methods for the application of morphometric data to phylogeny construction have not been fully established, it is unclear whether the observed discrepancies between morphological and molecular data arise from intrinsic differences or from flawed analyses. Here, we have used two methods to assemble evolutionary trees from distance matrices constructed according to Ege's data, the neighbor-joining (NJ) method and the minimum network (MinNet) method; the latter is based on an evolutionary algorithm. After reanalysing Ege's morphological data, we found that both methods gave results consistent with those based on molecular data, although not with Ege's original classification. Therefore, we speculate that some morphological features Ege used to subdivide the eel groups may not be synapomorphic as he proposed, but symplesiomorphic or convergent . The method developed here may prove useful for constructing phylogeny for taxon groups where only continuous morphometric characteristics are recognized, such as the freshwater eels.