Messinian salinity crisis and the origin of freshwater lifestyle in western Mediterranean gobies.

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The present paper reports on a molecular study based on 12S rRNA and 16S rRNA mitochondrial genes partly sequenced in 13 species of western Mediterranean gobies, three of which are strictly freshwater-dwelling. A total of 867 bp were aligned and used for the phylogenetic reconstruction. Two major lineages were identified, one clustering the sand gobies in a monophyletic clade. Relationships among taxa based on sequence analysis only partly match those based on morphological criteria, suggesting that the latter are somehow insufficient to correctly establish phylogenetic relationships within this family. The results provide evidence for a multiple independent evolution of the freshwater lifestyle in Knipowitschia and Padogobius lineages. On the basis of the present results, it is uncertain whether the freshwater preference within the genus Padogobius originated twice independently in P. nigricans and P. martensii or only once in their common ancestor. Estimation of the ages of the two major lineages of this group of fish with a molecular clock (in combination with the construction of a linearized tree) suggests that they are much older (at least 40 Myr) than previously thought. Thus, there should be no correlation between their diversification and the Miocene-Pliocene geological events, including the so-called Messinian salinity crisis, which occurred about 10 MYA and is believed to have played a role in their evolution. Alternatively, these gobies would have an evolutionary rate at least fourfold faster than those of other vertebrates.

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