The evolution of species-specific mate recognition signals is of particular interest within speciose monophyletic groups with restricted distributions (known as “species flocks”). However, the explosive nature of speciation in these clades makes difficult the reconstruction of their phylogenetic history. Here we describe a species flock of riverine mormyrid fishes from west-central Africa in which electric signals may play a role in the reproductive isolation of sympatric species. In our recent field collections, totaling more than 1400 specimens from many localities, we recognize 38 forms that are distinct in their morphologies and electric organ discharge (EOD) characteristics. Of these 38, only four clearly correspond to described species. Here we treat these forms as operational taxonomic units (OTUs) in a phylogenetic analysis of cytochrome b sequence data from a sample of 86 specimens. We examined support in the molecular data for the monophyly of these 38 OTUs considered together, the monophyly of each phenotypically delimited OTU considered individually, and for relationships among OTUs congruent with those inferred from the distribution of morphological and EOD character states. Trees obtained by both maximum-parsimony and maximum-likelihood analyses, rooted with sequence data from outgroup taxa, provide evidence for the monophyly of these 38 OTUs with respect to other mormyrid fishes. The small genetic distances between many distinct forms suggest their recent divergence. However, in many instances the cytochrome b tree topology fails to support the monophyly of individual OTUs and close relationships between OTUs that are similar in morphology and EOD characteristics. In other cases, individuals from distinct OTUs share identical or nearly identical haplotypes. Close examination of these cases suggests that unnatural OTU definition is not the sole cause of this pattern, and we infer an incongruence between the mitochondrial gene tree and the organismal phylogeny caused by incomplete mitochondrial lineage sorting and/or introgression across forms. The apparently rapid diversification in this clade of riverine electric fishes and the problems associated with recovering a meaningful species-level phylogeny from mitochondrial data parallel findings in other species flocks. Selection on EOD waveforms as mate recognition signals may be involved in the radiation of these fishes. This is the first description of a freshwater fish species flock from a riverine, as opposed to a lacustrine, environment.
Corresponding Editor: L. Bernatchez