Project Information
Phylogenomic Study of Adaptive Radiation in Antarctic Fishes
Short Title:
Notothenioid phylogenomics
Start Date:
End Date:
Understanding how groups of organisms respond to climate change is fundamentally important to assessing the impacts of human activities as well as understanding how past climatic shifts have shaped biological diversity over deep stretches of time. The fishes occupying the near-shore marine habitats around Antarctica are dominated by one group of closely related species called notothenioids. It appears dramatic changes in Antarctic climate were important in the origin and evolutionary diversification of this economically important lineage of fishes. Deposits of fossil fishes in Antarctica that were formed when the continent was experiencing milder temperatures show that the area was home to a much more diverse array of fish lineages. Today the waters of the Southern Ocean are very cold, and often below freezing, but notothenioids fishes exhibit a number of adaptions to live in this harsh set of marine habitats, including the presence of anti-freeze proteins. This research project will collect DNA sequences from hundreds of genes to infer the genealogical relationships of nearly all 124 notothenioid species, and use mathematical techniques to estimate the ages of species and lineages. Knowledge on the timing of evolutionary divergence in notothenioids will allow investigators to assess if timing of previous major climatic shifts in Antarctica are correlated with key events in the formation of the modern Southern Ocean fish fauna. The project will also further the NSF goals of making scientific discoveries available to the general public and of training new generations of scientists. The project will support educational outreach activities to teenager groups and to the general public through a natural history museum exhibit and other public lectures. It will provide professional training opportunities for graduate students and a postdoctoral research scholar.

Adaptive radiation, where lineages experience high rates of evolutionary diversification coincident with ecological divergence, is mostly studied in island ecosystems. Notothenioids dominate the fish fauna of the Southern Ocean and exhibit antifreeze glycoproteins that allow occupation of the subzero waters. Notothenioids are noted as one of the only examples of adaptive radiation among marine fishes, but the evolutionary history of diversification and radiation into different ecological habitats is poorly understood. This research will generate a species phylogeny (evolutionary history) for nearly all of the 124 recognized notothenioid species to investigate the mechanisms of adaptive radiation in this lineage. The phylogeny is inferred from approximately 350 genes sampled using next generation DNA sequencing and related techniques. Morphometric data are taken for museum specimens to investigate the tempo of morphological diversification and to determine if there are correlations between rates of lineage diversification and the origin of morphological disparity. The patterns of lineage, morphological, and ecological diversification in the notothenioid radiation will be compared to the paleoclimatic record to determine if past instances of global climate change have shaped the evolutionary diversification of this lineage of polar-adapted fishes.
Person Role
Near, Thomas Investigator and contact
Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Award # 1341661
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
1 (processed data)
Repository Title (link) Format(s) Status
USAP-DC Phylogenomics of Antarctic notothenioid fishes None exists
USAP-DC Phylogenomics of Antarctic notothenioid fishes None exists
  1. Near, T.J., A. Dornburg, R.C. Harrington, C. Oliveira, T.W. Pietsch, C.E. Thacker, T.P. Satoh, E. Katayama, P.C. Wainwright, J.T. Eastman, and J.M. Beaulieu. 2015. Identification of the notothenioid sister lineage illuminates the biogeographic history of an Antarctic adaptive radiation. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 15:109 (doi:10.1186/s12862-015-0362-9)
  2. Dornburg, A., R.I. Eytan, S. Federman, J.N. Pennington, A.L. Stewart, C.D. Jones, and T.J. Near. 2016. Molecular data supports two species of Cryodraco (Channichthyidae). Polar Biology. 39:1369-1379 (doi:10.1007/s00300-015-1859-9)
  3. Dornburg, A., S. Federman, R.I. Eytan, and T.J. Near. 2016. Cryptic species diversity in sub-Antarctic islands: a case study of Lepidonotothen. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 104:32-43 (doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2016.07.013)
  4. Dornburg, A., S. Federman, A.D. Lamb, C.D. Jones, and T.J. Near. 2017. Cradles and museums of Antarctic biodiversity. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 1:1379-1384 (doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0239-y)
  5. Alfaro, M.E., B.C. Faircloth, R.C. Harrington, L. Sorenson, M. Friedman, C.E. Thacker, and T.J. Near. 2018. Explosive diversification of marine fishes at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2:688-696 (doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0494-6)
  6. Rabosky, D.L., J. Chang, P.O. Title, P.F. Cowman, L. Sallan, M. Friedman, K. Kaschner, C. Garilao, T.J. Near, and M.E. Alfaro. 2018. A global tropical depression in speciation rate for marine fishes. Nature. 559:392-395 (doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0273-1)
  7. Near, T.J., D.J. MacGuigan, E. Parker, C.D. Struthers, C.D. Jones, and A. Dornburg. 2018. The utility of restriction site associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) for resolving Cenozoic adaptive radiations: a case study of Antarctic notothenioid fishes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 129:268-279 (doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2018.09.001)
  8. Near, T. J., Dornburg, A., & Friedman, M. (2014). Phylogenetic relationships and timing of diversification in gonorynchiform fishes inferred using nuclear gene DNA sequences (Teleostei: Ostariophysi). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 80, 297–307. (doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2014.07.013)
  9. Dornburg, A., Friedman, M., & Near, T. J. (2015). Phylogenetic analysis of molecular and morphological data highlights uncertainty in the relationships of fossil and living species of Elopomorpha (Actinopterygii: Teleostei). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 89, 205–218. (doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.04.004)
Platforms and Instruments

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