The Taxonomy, Phylogeny, and Distribution of Lampreys

  • Ian C. PotterEmail author
  • Howard S. Gill
  • Claude B. Renaud
  • Dalal Haoucher
Part of the Fish & Fisheries Series book series (FIFI, volume 37)


The lampreys (Petromyzontiformes), one of the two surviving groups of agnathan (jawless) vertebrates, currently consist of 41 recognized species. This group has an antitropical distribution, with the 37 species of Northern Hemisphere lampreys assigned to the Petromyzontidae, whereas the four species of Southern Hemisphere lampreys are separated into either the Geotriidae (one species) or Mordaciidae (three species). All lamprey species have a blind and microphagous, burrowing larva (ammocoete), which spends a number of years in the soft sediment of creeks and rivers, after which it undergoes a radical metamorphosis. Eighteen lamprey species then embark on an adult parasitic phase (nine at sea and nine in fresh water) during which they increase markedly in size, whereas the other 23 species do not feed as adults and remain in fresh water. On the basis of morphology, 17 of the 23 non-parasitic species each evolved from a particular parasitic species whose descendants are still represented in the contemporary fauna. The remaining six non-parasitic species, the so-called “southern relict” species, have no obvious potential ancestral parasitic species, implying they have diverged markedly from their parasitic ancestor or that the parasitic ancestor is now extinct. Many of the main taxonomic characteristics reside in features that are associated with parasitic feeding, for example, the type and arrangement of the teeth on the suctorial disc and tongue-like piston. The phylogenetic relationships, derived by maximum parsimony analyses of morphological and anatomical data for the 18 parasitic species, were similar in most respects to those obtained by subjecting molecular data (cytochrome b mitochondrial DNA sequence data) for those species to Bayesian analyses. However, in contrast to the results of morphological analyses, the genera Eudontomyzon and Lampetra were not monophyletic when using molecular analyses. When non-parasitic species were included in the molecular analyses, some of the six relict non-parasitic species formed clades with parasitic species which, from their morphology, had been allocated by taxonomists to different genera. More genes, and particularly nuclear genes, should be used to help resolve the basis for these differences between the morphological and molecular phylogenies.


Evolution Geotriidae Mordaciidae Morphological and molecular analyses Paired species Petromyzontidae 



We gratefully acknowledge Dr Halina Kobryn for generating the maps of the distribution of lampreys, Dr David Bird for kindly supplying Figs. 2.2b–d and Dr James Tweedley for helping to prepare the figures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian C. Potter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Howard S. Gill
    • 1
  • Claude B. Renaud
    • 2
  • Dalal Haoucher
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research, School of Veterinary and Life SciencesMurdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia
  2. 2.Research and Collections DivisionCanadian Museum of NatureOttawaK1P 6P4 Canada

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