The distribution of circumtropical marine species is limited by continental boundaries, cold temperate conditions, and oceanic expanses, but some of these barriers are permeable over evolutionary time scales. Sister taxa that evolved in separate ocean basins can come back into contact, and the consequences of this renewed sympatry may be a key to understanding evolutionary processes in marine organisms. The circumtropical trumpetfishes (Aulostomus) include a West Atlantic species (A. maculatus), an Indian-Pacific species (A. chinensis), and an East Atlantic species (A. strigosus) that may be the product of a recent invasion from the Indian Ocean. To resolve patterns of divergence and speciation, we surveyed 480 bp of mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b in 196 individuals from 16 locations. Based on a conventional molecular clock of 2% sequence divergence per million years, the deepest partitions in a neighbor-joining tree (d = 0.063–0.082) are consistent with separation of West Atlantic and Indian-Pacific species by the Isthmus of Panama, 3–4 million years ago. By the same criteria, trumpetfish in the East Atlantic were isolated from the Indian Ocean about 2.5 million years ago (d = 0.044–0.054), coincident with the advent of glacial cycles and cold-water upwelling around South Africa. Continental barriers between tropical oceans have only rarely been surmounted by trumpetfishes, but oceanic barriers do not appear to be substantial, as indicated by weak population partitioning (ϕST = 0.093) in A. chinensis across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Finally, morphological and mitochondrial DNA data indicate hybridization of A. strigosus and A. maculatus in Brazil. After 3–4 million years and a globe-spanning series of vicariant and dispersal events, trumpetfish lineages have come back into contact in the southwest Atlantic and appear to be merging. This ring species phenomenon may occur in a broad array of marine organisms, with clear implications for the production and maintenance of biodiversity in marine ecosystems.
Corresponding Editor: L. Bernatchez