Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 139–148

Evolution of freshwater eels of the genus Anguilla: a probable scenario

  • Katsumi Tsukamoto
  • Jun Aoyama

DOI: 10.1023/A:1007427724175

Cite this article as:
Tsukamoto, K. & Aoyama, J. Environmental Biology of Fishes (1998) 52: 139. doi:10.1023/A:1007427724175


We present a molecular phylogeny of freshwater eels from three oceans and give hypotheses to address major questions about the evolution and geographic distribution of this group. A phylogenetic tree obtained from mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences of eight species of Anguilla suggests that the African species A. mossambica and Australian species A. australis form a clade together with the two Atlantic species, the European eel, A. anguilla, and American eel, A. rostrata , whereas A. marmorata in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, A. reinhardti in northeastern Australia and the Japanese eel, A. japonica, in the northwestern Pacific are placed in another. Most speciation among the lineages is proposed to have occurred during the Eocene to Oligocene (45–30 million years ago, Ma). However, the two Atlantic species are estimated to have separated much later, approximately 10 Ma. The following evolutionary scenario for the dispersal and speciation of these species of anguillid eels is proposed based on general global paleogeography and paleo-circulation. Ancestral eels evolved during the Eocene or earlier, in the western Pacific Ocean near present-day Indonesia. A group derived from this ancestor dispersed westward, by transport of larvae in the global circum-equatorial current through the northern edge of the Tethys Sea. This group split into the ancestor of the European and American eels, which entered the Atlantic Ocean, and a second group, which dispersed southward and split into the east African species and Australian species.

migration loopTethys Seaspeciationcatadromy

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katsumi Tsukamoto
    • 1
  • Jun Aoyama
    • 1
  1. 1.Ocean Research InstituteUniversity of TokyoNakano, TokyoJapan