Cradles and museums of Antarctic teleost biodiversity

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Isolated in one of the most extreme marine environments on Earth, teleost fish diversity in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean is dominated by one lineage: the notothenioids. Throughout the past century, the long-term persistence of this unique marine fauna has become increasingly threatened by regional atmospheric and, to a lesser extent oceanic, warming. Developing an understanding of how historical temperature shifts have shaped source–sink dynamics for Antarctica’s teleost lineages provides critical insight for predicting future demographic responses to climate change. We use a combination of phylogenetic and biogeographic modelling to show that high-latitude Antarctic nearshore habitats have been an evolutionary sink for notothenioid species diversity. Contrary to expectations from island biogeographic theory, lower latitude regions of the Southern Ocean that include the northern Antarctic Peninsula and peripheral island archipelagos act as source areas to continental diversity. These peripheral areas facilitate both the generation of new species and repeated colonization of nearshore Antarctic continental regions. Our results provide historical context to contemporary trends of global climate change that threaten to invert these evolutionary dynamics.

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We thank the NCSM ichthyology research unit, members of the Donoghue and Near Laboratory groups and attendees of the 2016 Verrill Medal Symposium at the Peabody Museum of Natural History for helpful discussions of this work, and K. Zapfe for help with illustrations. A.D.L was supported by a North Carolina State University undergraduate research fellowship. T.J.N was supported by the National Science Foundation (ANT-1341661) and the Bingham Oceanographic Fund of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, and the students, staff and fellows of Saybrook College.

Author information


  1. North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC, 27601, USA

    • Alex Dornburg
    •  & April D. Lamb
  2. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale Universitsy, New Haven, CT, 06520, USA

    • Sarah Federman
    •  & Thomas J. Near
  3. Department of Biological Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, 27695, USA

    • April D. Lamb
  4. Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, La Jolla, CA, 92037, USA

    • Christopher D. Jones
  5. Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, CT, 06520, USA

    • Thomas J. Near


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A.D. and T.J.N. designed the study. C.D.J. and T.J.N. collected data. A.D., A.D.L. and T.J.N. performed analyses. A.D., A.D.L., S.F. and T.J.N. wrote the initial manuscript. C.D.J. contributed to the subsequent writing and development of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alex Dornburg.

Supplementary information

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–3 and Supplementary Table 1