Coral Reefs

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 1157–1169 | Cite as

Hybridisation among groupers (genus Cephalopholis) at the eastern Indian Ocean suture zone: taxonomic and evolutionary implications

  • Samuel D. PayetEmail author
  • Jean-Paul A. Hobbs
  • Joseph D. DiBattista
  • Stephen J. Newman
  • Tane Sinclair-Taylor
  • Michael L. Berumen
  • Jennifer L. McIlwain


Hybridisation is a significant evolutionary process that until recently was considered rare in the marine environment. A suture zone in the eastern Indian Ocean is home to numerous hybridising sister species, providing an ideal opportunity to determine how hybridisation affects speciation and biodiversity in coral reef fishes. At this location, hybridisation between two grouper (Epinephelidae) species: Cephalopholis urodeta (Pacific Ocean) and C. nigripinnis (Indian Ocean) was investigated to determine the genetic basis of hybridisation and to compare the ecology and life history of hybrids and their parent species. This approach aimed to provide insights into the taxonomic and evolutionary consequences of hybridisation. Despite clear phenotypic differences, multiple molecular markers revealed hybrids, and their parent species were genetically homogenous within and (thousands of kilometres) outside of the hybrid zone. Hybrids were at least as fit as their parent species (in terms of growth, reproduction, and abundance) and were observed in a broad range of intermediate phenotypes. The two species appear to be interbreeding at Christmas Island due to inherent biological and ecological compatibilities, and the lack of genetic structure may be explained by three potential scenarios: (1) hybridisation and introgression; (2) discordance between morphology and genetics; and (3) incomplete lineage sorting. Further molecular analyses are necessary to discriminate these scenarios. Regardless of which applies, C. urodeta and C. nigripinnis are unlikely to evolve in reproductive isolation as they cohabit where they are common (Christmas Island) and will source congeneric mates where they are rare (Cocos Keeling Islands). Our results add to the growing body of evidence that hybridisation among coral reef fishes is a dynamic evolutionary factor.


Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Epinephelidae Hybrid fitness Introgression Coral reef fish 



We would like thank Curtin University, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, and the Department of Fisheries (Government of Western Australia) for logistical support. Permits were provided by the Curtin Animal Ethics Committee (Approval Number: AEC_2014_06) with thanks to M. Priest and L. Rocha for specimen collection. Thanks also go to H. Macrae, L. Kupsky, B. Saunders, A. Halford, W. Robbins, B. Taylor, M. Gaither, and D. Catania for assistance and advice, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Bioscience Core Laboratory for assistance with Sanger sequencing, the University of Milano-Bicocca Marine Research and High Education Centre and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (Republic of Maldives). Funding was provided by the KAUST Office of Competitive Research Funding (award #CRG-1-2012-BER-002 to MLB) and KAUST baseline research funds to MLB.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel D. Payet
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jean-Paul A. Hobbs
    • 1
  • Joseph D. DiBattista
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephen J. Newman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Tane Sinclair-Taylor
    • 2
  • Michael L. Berumen
    • 2
  • Jennifer L. McIlwain
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environment and Agriculture, School of ScienceCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Division of Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering, Red Sea Research CenterKing Abdullah University of Science and TechnologyThuwalSaudi Arabia
  3. 3.Western Australian Fisheries and Marine Research Laboratories, Department of FisheriesGovernment of Western AustraliaNorth BeachAustralia

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