The New World clade of needlefishes (Belonidae) includes species distributed along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the Americas and in freshwater basins of Central and South America. Phylogenetic relationships among 13 species of the group were assessed based on data from two nuclear genes (RAG2 and Tmo-4C4), two mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b and 16S rRNA), and a small suite of morphological characters. In general, there was concordance between separate analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial characters, and RAG2 was found to be a particularly useful gene for phylogeny reconstruction. Morphology supported an alternative phylogenetic pattern, but this was probably a result of the small number of characters and the lack of a thorough anatomical survey. The total evidence hypothesis divides the group into two major clades. In one, Pseudotylosurus from freshwater in South America is most closely related to a pair of Strongylura species from the western and eastern Atlantic; in the other, Potamorrhaphis and Belonion from South American freshwater are related to a clade of Strongylura from marine and freshwater habitats of the eastern Pacific and western Atlantic. Optimization of habitat on the total evidence tree, combined with paleogeographic data, suggests that four independent entries into freshwater have taken place—one in Central America, and three in South America.
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Vol. 2001 • No. 2