Independent evolution of complex life history adaptations in two families of fishes, live-bearing halfbeaks (Zenarchopteridae, Beloniformes) and Poeciliidae (Cyprinodontiformes)

David Reznick, Robert Meredith, Bruce B. Collette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


We have previously documented multiple, independent origins of placentas in the fish family Poeciliidae. Here we summarize similar analyses of fishes in the family Zenarchopteridae. This family includes three live-bearing genera. Earlier studies documented the presence of superfetation, or the ability to carry multiple litters of young in different stages of development in the same ovary, in some species in all three genera. There is also one earlier report of matrotrophy, or extensive postfertilization maternal provisioning, in two of these genera. We present detailed life-history data for approximately half of the species in all three genera and combine them with the best available phylogeny to make inferences about the pattern of life-history evolution within this family. Three species of Hemirhamphodon have superfetation but lack matrotrophy. Most species in Nomorhamphus and Dermogenys either lack superfetation and matrotrophy or have both superfetation and matrotrophy. Our phylogenetic analysis shows that matrotrophy may have evolved independently in each genus. In Dermogenys, matrotrophic species produce fewer, larger offspring than nonmatrotrophic species. In Nomorhamphus; matrotrophic species instead produce more and smaller offspring than lecithotrophic species. However, the matrotrophic species in both genera have significantly smaller masses of reproductive tissue relative to their body sizes. All aspects of these results are duplicated in the fish family Poeciliidae. We discuss the possible adaptive significance of matrotrophy in the light of these new results. The two families together present a remarkable opportunity to study the evolution of a complex trait because they contain multiple, independent origins of the trait that often include close relatives that vary in either the presence or absence of the matrotrophy or in the degree to which matrotrophy is developed. These are the raw materials that are required for either an analysis of the adaptive significance of the trait or for studies of the genetic mechanisms that underlie the evolution of the trait.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2570-2583
Number of pages14
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Convergence
  • Convergent evolution
  • Evolution of complex traits
  • Matrotrophy
  • Placenta
  • Poeciliidae
  • Superfetation
  • Zenarchopteridae


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