The evolutionary history of seahorses (Syngnathidae: Hippocampus): Molecular data suggest a West Pacific origin and two invasions of the Atlantic Ocean
Sequence data derived from four markers (the nuclear RP1 and Aldolase and the mitochondrial 16S rRNA and cytochrome b genes) were used to determine the phylogenetic relationships among 32 species belonging to the genus Hippocampus. There were marked differences in the rate of evolution among these gene fragments, with Aldolase evolving the slowest and the mtDNA cytochrome b gene the fastest. The RP1 gene recovered the highest number of nodes supported by >70% bootstrap values from parsimony analysis and >95% posterior probabilities from Bayesian inference. The combined analysis based on 2317 nucleotides resulted in the most robust phylogeny. A distinct phylogenetic split was identified between the pygmy seahorse, Hippocampus bargibanti, and a clade including all other species. Three species from the western Pacific Ocean included in our study, namely H. bargibanti, H. breviceps, and H. abdominalis occupy basal positions in the phylogeny. This and the high species richness in the region suggests that the genus evolved somewhere in the West Pacific. There is also fairly strong molecular support for the remaining species being subdivided into three main evolutionary lineages: two West Pacific clades and a clade of species present in both the Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. The phylogeny obtained herein suggests at least two independent colonization events of the Atlantic Ocean, once before the closure of the Tethyan seaway, and once afterwards. © 2003 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.