Neotropical freshwater fishes have reached an unrivalled diversity, organized into several areas of endemism, yet the underlying processes are still largely unknown. The topographical and ecological characteristics of the Guyanas Region make it an ideal area of endemism in which to investigate the forces that have shaped this great diversity. This region is thought to be inhabited by species descending from Amazonian ancestors, which would have used two documented routes that, however, hardly explain the entrance of species adapted to running waters. Here, we investigate the evolutionary history of Pseudancistrus brevispinis, a catfish endemic to this region and exclusively found in running waters, thus making it an ideal model for investigating colonization routes and dispersal in such habitats. Our analyses, based on mitochondrial and nuclear markers, revealed an unexpected diversity consisting of six monophyletic lineages within P. brevispinis, showing a disjoint distribution pattern. The lineages endemic to Guyanas coastal rivers form a monophyletic group that originated via an ancestral colonization event from the Amazon basin. Evidence given favours a colonization pathway through river capture between an Amazonian tributary and the Upper Maroni River. Population genetic analyses of the most widespread species indicate that subsequent dispersal among Guyanas coastal rivers occurred principally by temporary connections between adjacent rivers during periods of lower sea level, yet instances of dispersal via interbasin river captures are not excluded. During high sea level intervals, the isolated populations would have diverged leading to the observed allopatric species. This evolutionary process is named the sea level fluctuation (SLF) hypothesis of diversification.
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