Coral Reefs

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 392–402 | Cite as

Phylogeography of colour polymorphism in the coral reef fish Pseudochromis fuscus, from Papua New Guinea and the Great Barrier Reef

  • Vanessa Messmer
  • Lynne van Herwerden
  • Philip L. Munday
  • Geoffrey P. Jones


Body colour has played a significant role in the evolution of coral reef fishes, but the phylogenetic level at which colour variation is expressed and the evolutionary processes driving the development and persistence of different colour patterns are often poorly understood. The aim of this study was to examine the genetic relationships between multiple colour morphs of Pseudochromis fuscus (family Pseudochromidae), both within and among geographic locations. Pseudochromis fuscus is currently described as a single species, but exhibits at least six discrete colour morphs throughout its range. In this study, P. fuscus from Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia, formed three genetically distinct clades based on mitochondrial DNA (control region) sequence data: (1) yellow and brown morphs from the GBR and southern PNG, as well as an orange morph from southern PNG; (2) a pink morph from southern PNG; and (3) all three morphs (pink, orange and grey) found in Kimbe Bay, northern PNG. The three groups showed deep levels of divergence (d=14.6–25.4%), suggesting that P. fuscus is a complex of polychromatic species, rather than a single widespread species with many different colour morphs. Population genetic analyses indicate that the three clades have experienced unique evolutionary histories, possibly from differential effects of sea level fluctuations, barriers to gene flow and historical biogeography.


Pseudochromidae Biogeography Population genetics Mitochondrial DNA Colour pattern Coral reef fish 



We thank Dik Knight of Loloata Island Resort and Max Benjamin of Walindi Plantation Resort for support of our research in PNG. Mahonia Na Dari Research and Conservation Centre provided excellent logistic support. Tony Gill generously shared his knowledge of pseudochromid taxonomy and biology and Lance Bode provided helpful information on oceanographic models of the region. This research was supported by James Cook University grants to LVH and Australian Research Council grants to GPJ and PLM.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vanessa Messmer
    • 1
  • Lynne van Herwerden
    • 1
  • Philip L. Munday
    • 1
  • Geoffrey P. Jones
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, School of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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