Phylogeography of lionfishes (Pterois) indicate taxonomic over Splitting and hybrid origin of the invasive Pterois volitans.
The lionfish is an iconic marine fish, and recently renowned for a disastrous introduction into the West Atlantic. Genetic surveys of the putative invaders (Pterois volitans and Pterois miles) in their natural Indo-Pacific range can illuminate both topics. Previous research indicated that P. volitans and P. miles are sister species that hybridize in the invasive range, but hybridization in the native range is unknown. Here, we apply mtDNA COI and 2 nuclear introns (S7 RP1 and Gpd2) from 229 lionfish including the 2 invaders and 2 closely-related taxa (44 P. miles, 91 P. volitans, 31 Pterois lunulata, and 63 Pterois russelii) from 10 locations in their native ranges. Genetic data are supplemented with key morphological characters: dorsal, anal, and pectoral fin ray counts. We observed 2 lineages (d=4.07%, 0.89%, and 2.75% at COI, S7 RP1, and Gpd2, respectively) among the 4 putative species: an Indian Ocean lineage represented by P. miles, and a Pacific Ocean lineage represented by P. lunulata and P. russelii. All specimens of the invasive P. volitans appear to be hybrids between the Indian Ocean P. miles and a Pacific lineage encompassing P. lunulata/russelii, a conclusion supported by both genetics and morphology. The divergences between Indian and Pacific forms are within the range of species-level partitions in fishes, and we recommend retention of the names P. miles and P. russelii for Indian and Pacific forms. The hybrid origin of the Atlantic invasion invokes the possibility of heterosis as a contributing factor to invasion success.