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Evolutionary biogeography of Cnesterodontini (Teleostei: Poeciliidae): area relationships and priority ranking for conservation


Distributional, phylogenetic, molecular, and paleontological data may be integrated to discover biogeographic patterns exhibited by the organisms. Cladistic biogeography uses information on the phylogenetic relationships between taxa and their geographic distribution to infer a sequence of area fragmentation. Brooks Parsimony Analysis (BPA) was performed based on the phylogenetic proposals for Cnesterodontini to hypothesize on the historical relationships among nine areas previously recognized by endemism of freshwater fish from South America. Additionally, we investigated the conservation scenario for cnesterodontines based on biogeographic, phylogenetic, and extinction criteria to establish a priority ranking for the analyzed areas. We found that the area relationships for Cnesterodontini are strongly linked to the historical patterns of evolution of the hydrographic basins, revealing well-defined scenarios of the formation of hydrological barriers between coastal river basins (i.e., Atlantic Slope) and mainly drainages running into the La Plata River system (i.e., Inland Slope). Dispersal events through headwater capture and sea-level changes explain the congruences evidenced among other fish lineages that exhibit similar diversification patterns in the Central Brazil drainages and in drainages on the Atlantic coast of South America. The ranking of priority areas for conservation established for Cnesterodontini indicates that greater attention should be directed to the regions located in the Central Coastal and Upper Parana areas, mainly in the Atlantic Forest, which represents one of the most threatened biodiversity hotspots on the planet with serious threats to freshwater biodiversity.

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All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article [and its electronic supplementary information].


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We are deeply grateful to reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions that significantly improved this manuscript; to PEA (Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ecologia de Ambientes Aquáticos Continentais) and Fundação Araucária (SETI/PR) for the financial support given to AF for his research stay in Mexico. We thank CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico) for productivity scholarships conceived to WJG (305200/2018-6 and 307089/2021-5) and for a postgraduation (141242/2018-3) and postdoctoral (168348/2022-5) scholarships conceived to AF.


Fundação Araucária (SETI/PR) and CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), Grants/Award Numbers: 141242/2018-3, 307089/2021-5, 305200/2018-6, and 168348/2022-5.

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AF and WJG conceived and AF and JJM designed the investigations; AF and JJM performed the biogeographic analysis; JJM and WJG contributed to data interpretation, critical revision, and adding intellectual content. All authors interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Augusto Frota.

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Frota, A., Morrone, J.J. & da Graça, W.J. Evolutionary biogeography of Cnesterodontini (Teleostei: Poeciliidae): area relationships and priority ranking for conservation. Aquat Sci 85, 50 (2023).

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  • Atlantic Forest
  • Endangered fish
  • Headwater captures
  • Sea-level changes
  • Small-sized fish
  • South America