Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 109–140 | Cite as

Biodiversity of arctic marine fishes: taxonomy and zoogeography

  • Catherine W. MecklenburgEmail author
  • Peter Rask Møller
  • Dirk Steinke
Arctic Ocean Diversity Synthesis


Taxonomic and distributional information on each fish species found in arctic marine waters is reviewed, and a list of families and species with commentary on distributional records is presented. The list incorporates results from examination of museum collections of arctic marine fishes dating back to the 1830s. It also incorporates results from DNA barcoding, used to complement morphological characters in evaluating problematic taxa and to assist in identification of specimens collected in recent expeditions. Barcoding results are depicted in a neighbor-joining tree of 880 CO1 (cytochrome c oxidase 1 gene) sequences distributed among 165 species from the arctic region and adjacent waters, and discussed in the family reviews. Using our definition of the arctic region, we count 242 species with documented presence, if 12 species that likely are synonyms are excluded. The 242 species are distributed among 45 families. Six families in Cottoidei with 72 species and five in Zoarcoidei with 55 species account for more than half (52.5%) the species. This study produced CO1 sequences for 106 of the 242 species. Sequence variability in the barcode region permits discrimination of all species. The average sequence variation within species was 0.3% (range 0–3.5%), while the average genetic distance between congeners was 4.7% (range 3.7–13.3%). The CO1 sequences support taxonomic separation of some species, such as Osmerus dentex and O. mordax and Liparis bathyarcticus and L. gibbus; and synonymy of others, like Myoxocephalus verrucosus in M. scorpius and Gymnelus knipowitschi in G. hemifasciatus. They sometimes revealed the presence of additional species that were not entirely expected, such as an unidentified species of Ammodytes in the western Gulf of Alaska, most likely A. personatus; and an unidentified Icelus species of the I. spatula complex with populations in the western Gulf of Alaska and the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas which could be a new species or a species in synonymy. Reviewing distribution, we found that for 24 species the patterns assigned by authors understated historical presence in the arctic region, and for 12 species they overstated presence. For instance, Hippoglossoides robustus is counted as an arctic–boreal species rather than predominantly boreal, and Artediellus uncinatus as predominantly arctic rather than predominantly boreal. Species with arctic, predominantly arctic, or arctic–boreal distributions composed 41% of the 242 species in the region, and predominantly boreal, boreal, and widely distributed species composed 59%. For some continental shelf species, such as the primarily amphiboreal Eumesogrammus praecisus and Leptoclinus maculatus, distributions appear to reflect changes, including reentry into Arctic seas and reestablishment of continuous ranges, that zoogeographers believe have been going on since the end of land bridge and glacial times.


Biodiversity Arctic marine fishes Barcoding Taxonomy Zoogeography 



Barcoding (CO1 sequencing) was funded by Genome Canada through the Ontario Genomics Institute. Dirk Steinke was supported by funding of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to MarBOL. Funding for C.W.M. during the CoML included grants from NOAA, Office of Arctic Research (RUSALCA); Arctic Ocean Diversity Census of Marine Life project (ArcOD); US Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division; US Fish and Wildlife Service [Seabird, Marine Mammal, Fish, and Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (SMMOCI)]; University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences (Coastal Marine Institute/Minerals Management Service); and Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC).

The California Academy of Sciences (CAS), Ichthyology Department provides curatorial support for C.W.M. as a research associate of the academy. The generous assistance of William N. Eschmeyer, Tomio Iwamoto, John E. McCosker, David Catania, Jon Fong, and Mysi Hoang is much appreciated. Curatorial support for the Pacific and western Arctic collections has also been provided by J. Andres Lopez, University of Alaska Museum, Fairbanks (UAM); and Arcady V. Balushkin, Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences (ZIN). Brian W. Coad, Sylvie Laframboise, Noel Alfonso (CMN); Eric B. Taylor (UBC); Lynn R. Parenti, Jeffrey T. Williams, David G. Smith, Kris Murphy, Sandra Raredon (USNM); Theodor W. Pietsch, Katherine P. Maslenikov (UW); Mamoru Yabe, Osamu Tsuruoka (HUMZ); and Bruce L. Wing (ABML) hosted visits to study their collections, loaned specimens, and provided radiographs, photographs, and other valuable assistance. C.W.M. also acknowledges the expertise of cruise chief scientists Donald E. Dragoo, Lisa Eisner, James Murphy, and Terry Whitledge in enabling the success of our arctic research missions. Brenda A. Holladay is gratefully acknowledged for leading the technical fishing on Pacific-Arctic cruises and ensuring a steady supply of specimens. Natalia V. Chernova is credited with identifying Liparis bathyarcticus and Trichocottus brashnikovi in the RUSALCA 2009 bottom trawl catch. Elizabeth Logerwell and Kim Rand provided frozen fish for barcoding from the Beaufort Sea in 2008.

Jørgen S. Christiansen provided helpful discussion and advice at the beginning of manuscript preparation. T. Anthony Mecklenburg helped research species distributions and created the maps, contributed fish and tissues from southeastern Alaska to the barcoding effort, and helped identify and archive specimens sent to Point Stephens Research for identification. The authors are grateful for the suggestions from Ingvar Byrkjedal, two anonymous reviewers, and the Arctic Frontiers special volume editor, Bodil A. Bluhm.

Photographs of Lamna ditropis are by Morgan S. Busby, Anarhichas denticulatus by Anne M. Jensen, and the rest by C.W.M.

This publication is part of the Census of Marine Life’s Arctic Ocean Diversity project synthesis and was originally presented at the Arctic Frontiers Conference in Tromsø, January 2010. The support and initiative of ARCTOS and Arctic Frontiers are gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Senckenberg, Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catherine W. Mecklenburg
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Rask Møller
    • 2
  • Dirk Steinke
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of IchthyologyCalifornia Academy of SciencesAuke BayUSA
  2. 2.Natural History Museum of DenmarkUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen ØDenmark
  3. 3.Biodiversity Institute of OntarioUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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