The family Scaridae comprises about 90 species of herbivorous coral reef, rock reef, and seagrass fishes. Parrotfishes are important agents of marine bioerosion who rework the substrate with their beaklike oral jaws. Many scarid populations are characterized by complex social systems including highly differentiated sexual stages, territoriality, and the defense of harems. Here, we test a hypothesis of relationships among parrotfish genera derived from nearly 2 kb of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequence. The DNA tree is different than a phylogeny based on comparative morphology and leads to important reinterpretations of scarid evolution. The molecular data suggest a split among seagrass and coral reef associated genera with nearly 80% of all species in the coral reef clade. Our phylogenetic results imply an East Tethyan origin of the family and the recurrent evolution of excavating and scraping feeding modes. It is likely that ecomorphological differences played a significant role in the initial divergence of major scarid lineages, but that variation in color and breeding behavior has triggered subsequent diversification. We present a two-phase model of parrotfish evolution to explain patterns of comparative diversity. Finally, we discuss the application of this model to other adaptively radiating clades.
Corresponding Editor: L. Bernatchez