Evolution of the Basses and Sunfishes, Family Centrarchidae

The Basses and Sunfishes of the Family Centrarchidae are a group of 31 species in nine genera endemic to North America. Most of these species are highly prized sport fishes, especially the basses of the genus Micropterus. The native distribution of recent centrarchid fishes is east of the continental divide, with the exception of Archoplites interruptus from the Sacramento-San Joaquin system of California. Fossil remains of basses and sunfishes do exist east and west of the continental divide and date back to the Eocene (east of divide) and Miocene (west of divide). Species of this family constitute a major component of the ichthyofauna in most eastern North American warm-water ecosystems and are highly prized in recreational fisheries and aquaculture. In addition, centrarchids have been the focus of many studies focusing on behavior, development, ecological evolution, character evolution and speciation, functional morphology, genetic diversification, and host-parasite coevolution.

Given the popularity of these fishes as model organisms across many disciplines, it is surprising that species and generic relationships within centrarchids have received such limited systematic attention. Because evolutionary hypotheses must be grounded within a framework wherein sister species relationships are available, we have endeavored to resolve species relationships within the family and examine the relationships of this family within the Perciformes.

This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-9903794 and DBI-0070351), Saint Louis University, and The University of Alabama.

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Fish illustrations by Joseph R. Tomelleri and used with permission.