Convergence is Only Skin Deep: Craniofacial Evolution in Electric Fishes from South America and Africa (Apteronotidae and Mormyridae)

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2022
Authors:Ford, K. L., Peterson, R., Bernt, M., Albert J. S.
Date Published:Jun-14-2022

Apteronotidae and Mormyridae are species-rich clades of weakly electric fishes from Neotropical and Afrotropical freshwaters, respectively, known for their high morphological disparity and often regarded as a classic example of convergent evolution. Here we use CT-imaging and 3D geometric morphometrics to quantify disparity in craniofacial morphologies, and to test the hypothesis of convergent skull-shape evolution in a phylogenetic context. For this study we examined 391 specimens representing 78 species of Apteronotidae and Mormyridae including 30 of 37 (81%) of all valid genera with the goal to sample most of the craniofacial disparity known in these clades. We found no overlap between Apteronotidae and Mormyridae in the skull-shape morphospace using PCA and a common landmark scheme, and therefore no instances of complete phenotypic convergence. Instead, we found multiple potential instances of incomplete convergence, and at least one parallel shift among electric fish clades. The greatest components of shape variance in both families are the same as observed for most vertebrate clades: heterocephaly (i.e., opposite changes in relative sizes of the snout and braincase regions of the skull), and heterorhynchy (i.e., dorsoventral changes in relative snout flexion and mouth position). Mormyrid species examined here exhibit less craniofacial disparity than do apteronotids, potentially due to constraints associated with a larger brain size, ecological constraints related to food-type availability. Patterns of craniofacial evolution in these two clades depict a complex story of phenotypic divergence and convergence in which certain superficial similarities of external morphology obscure deeper osteological and presumably developmental differences of skull form and function. Among apteronotid and mormyrid electric fishes, craniofacial convergence is only skin deep.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith