, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 405-414
Date: 01 Sep 2005

Evolutionary divergence among lineages of the ocean sunfish family, Molidae (Tetraodontiformes)

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Ocean sunfish, family Molidae, are enigmatic members of the epipelagic fauna of all tropical and temperate oceans. A study, begun in 1998, initially focused on the population genetics of Mola mola Linnaeus 1758 immediately indicated high levels of genetic divergence in the d-loop and cytochrome b mitochondrial genes. This preliminary effort was expanded to include Masturus lanceolatus Liénard 1840, Ranzania laevis Pennant 1776, and representative sequences of other Tetraodontiformes. Analysis of the sequence data confirms that there are two species in the genus Mola, Mola mola and M. ramsayi Giglioli 1883, with the latter presumed to be limited to the southern hemisphere. There is an indication of inter-ocean subdivision within both species originating 0.05–0.32 and 1.55–4.10 million years ago, respectively. Given limited sample sizes, however, the divergence estimates are minimums and the isolating mechanisms remain speculative. The systematic analysis provided strong support for the sister taxa relationship between genera Masturus and Mola and the basal position of the genus Ranzania within the family, as well as the sister group relationship of the Tetraodontiform families Tetraodontidae + Diodontidae to the Molidae.