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Data from: Exceptional levels of species discovery ameliorate inferences of the biogeography and diversification of an Afrotropical catfish family


Day, Julia et al. (2023), Data from: Exceptional levels of species discovery ameliorate inferences of the biogeography and diversification of an Afrotropical catfish family , Dryad, Dataset,


Endeavours in species discovery, particularly the characterisation of cryptic species, have been greatly aided by the application of DNA molecular sequence data to phylogenetic reconstruction and inference of evolutionary and biogeographic processes. However, the extent of cryptic and undescribed diversity remains unclear in tropical freshwaters, where biodiversity is declining at alarming rates. To investigate how data on previously undiscovered biodiversity impacts inferences of biogeography and diversification dynamics, we generated a densely sampled species-level family tree of Afrotropical Mochokidae catfishes that was ca. 70% complete. This was achieved through extensive continental sampling specifically targeting the genus Chiloglanis a specialist of the relatively unexplored fast-flowing lotic habitat. Applying multiple species-delimitation methods, we report exceptional levels of species discovery for a vertebrate genus, conservatively delimiting a staggering ca. 50 putative new Chiloglanis species, resulting in a near 80% increase in species richness for the genus. Biogeographic reconstructions of the family identified the Congo Basin as a critical region in the generation of mochokid diversity, and our study further revealed complex scenarios for the build-up of continental assemblages of the two most species-rich mochokid genera, Synodontis and Chiloglanis. While Syndontis showed most divergence events within freshwater ecoregions consistent with largely in situ diversification, Chiloglanis showed much less aggregation of freshwater ecoregions, suggesting dispersal as a key diversification process in this older group. Despite the significant increase in mochokid diversity identified here, diversification rates were best supported by a constant rate model consistent with patterns in many other tropical continental radiations. While our findings highlight fast-flowing lotic freshwaters as potential hotspots for undescribed and cryptic species diversity, a third of all freshwater fishes are currently threatened with extinction, signifying an urgent need to increase exploration of tropical freshwaters to better characterise and conserve its biodiversity.

Usage notes

Matricies can be opened in Geneious software or a text editor. Programmes used to analyse these data inlcude Mr Bayes, IQ-Tree, BEAST.


National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-05423540

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1655227

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-1023403

National Science Foundation, Award: DEB-0315963

Leverhulme Trust, Award: AA100023

Leverhulme Trust, Award: AA130107