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On the validity of the Cirrhitid fish genus Itycirrhitus.


The 33 species of fishes of the perciform family Cirrhitidae, popularly known as hawkfishes, are found in the tropical and subtropical Indo-Pacific region, except for three in the Atlantic and three in the eastern Pacific (two of which, Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus and Oxycirrhites typus, are range extensions from the Indo-Pacific). Cirrhitid fishes all have X dorsal spines, III anal spines, 14 pectoral rays (the lower five to seven rays unbranched and thickened), two flat opercular spines, a serrate preopercle, cycloid scales, one to several cirri at the tip of each membrane of the dorsal spines, and no swim bladder. Most species occur in shallow water on coral reefs or rocky substrata, often in areas exposed to wave action. When in a surge zone, they use their thickened lower pectoral rays to wedge themselves in cracks in the reef or within branches of coral. Hawkfishes feed mainly on benthic crustaceans and occasionally on small fishes. Exceptions are Cyprinocirrhites polyactis that feeds well above the substratum on zooplankton, and O. typus that often makes short forays from the bottom to prey on the larger animals of the demersal plankton. At least some of the species of the family are protogynous hermaphrodites (Sadovy & Donaldson 1995).

The generic classification of the Cirrhitidae has a long and confused history, Gunther (1860) recognized eight genera in the family. A century and 11 cirrhitid publications later, Schultz in Schultz & collaborators (1960) listed 13 genera, including Isobuna and Serranocirrhitus, now known to be serranids. Randall (1963) included 10 genera and 34 species in his revision of the family. Randall (2001) again revised the genera of cirrhitids, adding three new monotypic genera from species formerly classified in Cirrhitus. One of these, Itycirrhitus, was described for a small species, Cirrhitus wilhelmi, from Easter Island. This species was first described by Lavenberg & Yanez (1972) and later reclassified in Amblycirrhitus by Pequeno (1989). Randall (1999) extended the range to the Pitcairn Islands. The key to genera of Randall (2001) is reproduced here.

After the separation of Oxycirrhites in the key, mainly by its snout length, and Cyprinocirrhites by its lunate caudal fin, the characters leading to the other genera are less incisive, in particular those leading to Itycirrhitus. This study was initiated to determine if an analysis of DNA sequence data from species of cirrhitid fishes will support the generic classification. Specifically we collected mitochondrial sequence data to compare Itycirrhitus wilhelmi (Fig. 1) with the similarly colored species of Cirrhitops, C. fasciatus (Fig. 2) and C. mascarenensis. Additionally, we investigated the level of genetic divergence between the two monotypic genera Notocirrhitus and Neocirrhites which are closely grouped in the key.


For genetic analysis a 1cm fin clip was obtained from three specimens of Itycirrhitus wilhelmi from Easter Island. DNA was isolated using the modified HotSHOT method (Meeker et al. 2007; Truett et al. 2000). We amplified approximately 660 bp the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene and approximately 750 base pairs of cytochrome b (cyt b) gene using the primers employed in Randall and Schultz (2009). Polymerase chain reactions (PCR) were carried out in a 20 [micro]l volume containing 5-20 ng of template DNA, 0.4 [micro]M of each primer, 10 [micro]l of the premixed PCR solution BioMix Red (Bioline Inc., Springfield, NJ, USA), and deionized water to volume. After an initial 7 min denaturation at 95[degrees]C, each of 35 cycles consisted of denaturation for 30 s at 94[degrees]C, annealing at 56[degrees]C for COI and 58[degrees]C for cyt b for 30 s, and extension at 72[degrees]C for 45 s with a final 10 min extension at 72[degrees]C. Amplification products were purified using 0.75 units of Exonuclease I: 0.5 units of Shrimp Alkaline Phosphatase (ExoSAP, USB, Cleveland, OH, USA) per 7.5 [micro]l PCR products at 37[degrees]C for 60 minutes, followed by deactivation at 80[degrees]C for 15 minutes. DNA sequencing was performed with fluorescentlylabeled dideoxy terminators on an ABI 3730XL Genetic Analyzer (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA) at the University of Hawai'i Advanced Studies of Genomics, Proteomics and Bioinformatics sequencing facility. Sequences for each locus were aligned, edited, and trimmed to a common length using the DNA sequence assembly and analysis software Geneious Pro 5.0 (Biomatters, LTD, Auckland, NZ). In all cases, alignment was unambiguous with no indels or frameshift mutations. Unique sequences were deposited in Gen-Bank (; see Table I for accession numbers).

Table I. Mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) and cytochrome b
(cyt b) sequences used in this study. Species name, Barcode of Life
Data systems (,
Ratnasingham & Hebert 2007) sequence identification numbers and
GenBank accession numbers (in italics;, and museum voucher IDs (in
parentheses) are listed. Sequences generated
in this study are in bold. Number of individuals (if > 1) in which
haplotype was detected is listed in parentheses.

Species                      COI                       cyt b

Amblycirrhitus    tzaib036-06 (hlc-12147)

A. bimacula       JX645648                   eu684136, JX645657

Cirr/iitops       EU684132, EU684133 (bpbm   EU684137, EU684138 (bpbm
fasciatus         40485, 40888)              40485, 40888)
                  tzaib307-06 (hlc-12324)

C. mascarenensis  EU684134, EU684135 (bpbm   EU684139, EU684140 (bpbm
                  40889-90)                  40889-90)

Cirrhitus         JX645649, JX645650 (2)     JX645661, JX645662,
pinnulatus                                   JX645663

Itycirrhitus      JX645651,JX645652(2)       JX645658, JX645659,
wilhelmi                                     JX645660

Neocirrhites      tzaic178-05 (hlc-10878)    JX645664, JX645665,
armatus           tzaib505-06 (hlc-13128)    JX645666
                  tzaic695-06 (hlc-11757)
                  JX645653, JX645654,

Notocirrhitus     JX645656(2) (ma655017,
splendens         ma655018)

Paracirrhites     tzaib143-06 (hlc-12066)
arcatus           tzaib144-06 (hLC-12067)
                  tzaib145-06 (hLC-12068)
                  tzaib147-06 (hLC-12070)
                  tzaib867-07 (hLC-15197)

P. forsteri       dsfsg451-11(adc11_214.7    dsfsg566-11(adc11_214.7
                  #2)                        #4)

Epinephelus       HQ174825, HQ174826         HQ174838, HQ174839

Plectropomus      gbgc1814-06, gbgc1208-06,  AY963555, AY963556
leopardus         fscs615-07

Maximum Likelihood (ML) trees were constructed using the default settings implemented in the program MEGA 5.05 (Tamura et al. 2007). COI and cyt b sequences of Cirrhitops fasciatus (N = 5, Hawai'i) and Cirrhitops mascarenensis (N = 2, Mauritius), were obtained from GenBank (Randall & Schultz 2009, Table I). For inclusion in the phylogenetic

tree COI sequences from representatives of three genera in the family Cirrhitidae were downloaded from the Barcode of Life Data (BOLD) Systems 2.5 website ( (Table I). Corresponding cyt b sequences were available from GenBank for only Amblycirrhitus bimacula. Additionally, tissue samples of Amblycirrhitus bimacula (N = 1, Hawai'i), Cirrhitus pinnulatus (N = 3, Guam), Neocirrhites armatus (N = 3, Guam), and Notocirrhitus splendens (N = 2, Kermadec Islands, New Zealand) were obtained and sequenced at both loci and deposited in GenBank (Table I). Available voucher specimens and tissues (Table I) are deposited in the: Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (HLC), Guelph, Canada; Bernice P. Bishop Museum (BPBM), Honolulu, USA; South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (ADC), Grahamstown, South Africa; and the Auckland Museum (MA), Auckland, New Zealand.

Phylogenetic trees were rooted with two species from the family Serranidae (Table I, Epinephelus lanceolatus and Plectropomus leopardus). For analysis, all COI and cyt b sequences were trimmed to 557 bp and 671 bp, respectively. Bootstrap support values were calculated using default settings with 1000 replicates. For comparison we ran a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) analysis as implemented in the program MRBAYES 3.1.1 (Huelsenbeck & Ronquist 2001). We employed default settings and ran simulations for 1,000,000 generations until the standard deviation of split frequencies were below 0.01 as recommended in the MRBAYES manual. Average percent divergence (d) between genera was calculated in ARLEQUIN 3.5 (Excoffier & Lischer 2010).


Our comparisons of Itycirrhitus wilhelmi and the two species of the genus Cirrhitops (C. fasciatus and C. mascarenensis) at two mitochondrial genes confirmed the distinction of these two genera. Across all COI sequences analyzed we detected 197 variable nucleotide sites. There were two haplotypes in three I. wilhelmi specimens. The average pairwise difference between C. fasciatus and C. mascarenensis was 39 bp (d = 7%), while I. wilhelmi differs from the two species of Cirrhitops by an average of 85 bp (d = 15%). All generic level comparisons resulted in average base pair differences that range between 82 bp (d = 15%; Cirrhitops vs. Neocirrhites) and 113 (d = 20%; Neocirrhites vs. Amblycirrhitus). The exception is I. wilhelmi and Neocirrhites armatus which differ by an average of only 47 bp (d = 8%).

Analyses of cyt b sequences were similarly robust. We detected 256 variable nucleotide sites. There were three haplotypes in three I. wilhelmi specimens. The average pairwise difference between C. fasciatus and C. mascarenensis was 75 bp (d = 11%). In contrast, the average pairwise differences between I. wilhelmi and the two species of Cirrhitops were 140 and 132 respectively (d = 21% and 20%, respectively). Generic level comparisons resulted in average base pair differences that ranged between 84 bp (d = 13%; Neocirrhites vs. Itycirrhitus) and 138 bp (d = 21%; Amblycirrhitus vs. Cirrhitops).

After repeated attempts, we were able to amplify the Notocirrhitus splendens specimens at COI but not cyt b. When comparing N. splendens with Neocirrhites armatus, which are closely grouped in the key, we found an average pairwise difference between these monotypic genera of 84 bp (d = 15%). A similar level of divergence was detected between N. splendens and I. wilhelmi (87 bp, d = 16%), which are also closely grouped in the key.

Phylogenetic analyses revealed a single tree topology for both mitochondrial markers with only the relative positions of the outgroups varying (Fig. 3). Both Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian analyses indicated that N. armatus is more closed related to I. wilhelmi than I. wilhelmi is to the members of the genus Cirrhitops.


Phylogenetic analyses indicate strong concordance between our molecular data and generic level classifications within the family Cirrhitidae (see key above). Species within the same genus always grouped together with intragenetic divergences ranging from 7-14% at COI. The genus Itycirrhitus was described by Randall (2001) based on seemingly small morphological differences. Here we report sequence data that support the generic level designation for Itycirrhitus wilhelmi. This species is 15% divergent at COI from either of the species of the genus Cirrhitops; a level of divergence common among the other genera of the family (8 to 20%). Our finding of a similar level of divergence between Neocirrhites armatus and Notocirrhitus splendens supports the designation of these monotypic genera.

Interestingly, I. wilhelmi did not cluster in the phylogenetic tree with the morphologically similar Cirrhitops (Figs 1-2). Instead, despite significant morphological differences, Neocirrhites armatus was found to be only 8% divergent from I. wilhelmi, a similar level of divergence between the two species of Cirrhitops (7%). In this case we found surprising incongruence between the morphological characters used to delineate these species and the level of molecular divergence detected.


We thank the following for providing tissue samples for this study: Dr. Gerald R. Allen, Dr. Alfredo Cea, Dr. Mark V. Erdmann, Daniel Pelicier, and Dr. Gordon W. Tribble. Support for the first author was provided by a grant/cooperative agreement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Project R/HE-1, which is sponsored by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, SOEST, under Institutional Grant No. NA09OAR4170060. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or any of its subagencies. UNIHI-SEAGRANT-JC-09-48. This is contribution #1516 from the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology and #8739 from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Received: 6 June 2012 - Accepted: 17 September 2012


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        Key to the Genera of Cirrhitidae

la.   Snout not elongate, its length about                 2
      2.8-4.1 in head length; body not
      slender, the depth 2.0-3.4 in SL;
      canine teeth in jaws markedly longer
      than inner villiform teeth, those at
      front of upper jaw and side of lower
      jaw enlarged

lb.   Snout elongate, its length 1.85-2.0       Oxycirrhites
      in head length; body slender, the
      depth 4.4-4.6 in SL; canine teeth in
      jaws only slightly longer than inner
      villiform teeth and nearly uniform
      in size

2a.   Caudal fin rounded, truncate, or                     3
      slightly emarginate; dorsal soft
      rays 11-15; snout not short, its
      length 2.7-3.SL

2b.   Caudal fin lunate; dorsal soft rays   Cyprinocirrhites
      16 or 17; snout short, its length
      3.6-4.1 in head length

3a.   Small scales on cheek in more than                   4
      12 rows

3a.   Rows of large scales on cheek 4-6                    8
      (small scales also usually present)

4a.   Lower 7 pectoral rays unbranched and                 5
      thickened; first 2 supraneural
      bones in space before second neural
      spine; more than 40 cirri in 2
      series on posterior flap of anterior

4b.   Lower 6 pectoral rays unbranched and                 6
      thickened; first 3 supraneural
      bones in space before second
      neuralspine; fewer than 15 cirri on
      posterior flap of anterior nostril

5a.   Supraorbital ridge high, continuing    Cristacirrhitus
      more than half eye diameter
      posterior to orbit; lower opercular
      spine acute, forming an angle of
      45[degrees] or less; no scales in
      interorbital space; pectoral fins
      reaching slightly beyond a vertical
      at tips of pelvic fins; body depth
      3.1-3.35 in SL

5b.   Supraorbital ridge low and not               Cirrhitus
      continuing posterior to eye; lower
      opercular spine forming an angle of
      90[degrees]; a V-shaped band of scales
      in posterior half of interorbital
      space; pectoral fins short, not
      reaching a vertical at tips of
      pelvic fins; body depth 2.6-3.1 in

6a.   Dorsal soft rays 13; three-fourths        Neocirrhites
      or more of preopercular margin
      coarsely serrate; palatine teeth
      absent; body very deep, the depth
      2.0- 2.4 in SL, and very compressed,
      the width 2.9-3.1 in depth; longest
      pectoral rays not extending beyond a
      vertical at pelvic-fin tips.

6b.   Dorsal soft rays 11-12; about upper                  7
      half of preopercular margin finely
      or coarsely serrate; palatine teeth
      present; body not very deep, the
      depth 2.6-3.3 in SL, and not very
      compressed, the width 1.9-2.3 in
      depth; longest pectoral rays
      extending beyond a vertical at
      pelvic-fin tips

7a.   Upper margin of preopercle finely        Notocirrhitus
      serrate (25 or more serrae); exposed
      end of posttemporal finely serrate;
      first (most medial) branchiostegal
      ray strongly curved and nearly
      parallel with second ray; gill
      membrane across throat naked; scales
      on cheek separated from serrate edge
      of preopercle by a broad naked zone
      crossed by irregular sensory
      channels (may show as ridges); no
      scales on snout; scales ventrally
      on chest extremely small; 3 rows of
      large scales above lateral line in
      middle of body; dorsal soft rays 12

7b.   Upper margin of preopercle coarsely       Itycirrhitus
      serrate (fewer than 13 serrae);
      exposed end of post-temporal with
      3-5 serrae; first (most medial)
      branchiostegal ray nearly straight
      and not parallel to second ray;
      gill membrane across throat scaled;
      scales on cheek extending to base of
      preopercular serrae; scales on snout
      extending to below anterior
      nostrils; scales ventrally on chest
      one-half or more size of scales on
      side of body; 4 rows of large scales
      above lateral line in middle of
      body; dorsal soft rays 12-14 (rarely
      12 or 14)

8a.   Rows of large scales above lateral       Paracirrhites
      line to base of spinous portion of
      dorsal fin 5; a single cirrus from
      membrane near tip of each spine of
      dorsal fin; membranes between
      longest dorsal spines incised at
      most one-fifth spine length;
      palatine teeth absent

8b.   Rows of large scales above lateral
      line to base of spinous portion of
      dorsal fin 3 or 4; a tuft of cirri
      from membrane near tip of each spine
      of dorsal fin; membranes between
      longest dorsal spines incised
      one-third or more of spine length;
      palatine teeth present or absent 9

9a.   Palatine teeth absent; maxilla            Isocirrhitus
      reaching to or beyond a vertical
      through middle of eye; dorsal
      spines short, the longest 2.9-3.2 in
      head length; dorsal profile of head
      convex; lower 5 pectoral rays
      unbranched; interorbital fully
      scaled; snout not pointed;
      preorbital without a free posterior

9b.   Palatine teeth present; maxilla not                 10
      reaching a vertical through middle
      of eye; dorsal spines 1.7-3.0 in
      head length; dorsal profile of head
      straight to slightly convex; lower 5
      to 7 pectoral rays unbranched;
      interorbital scaled or naked; snout
      pointed or not pointed; preor-bital
      with or without a free posterior

10a.  Dorsal soft rays 14-15 (rarely 15);         Cirrhitops
      first 2 pectoral rays unbranched;
      snout not pointed, the dorsal
      profile from interorbital to upper
      lip convex; interorbital naked

10b.  Dorsal rays 11-13 (rarely 13); first                11
      pectoral ray unbranched, second
      branched; snout pointed, the dorsal
      profile straight; interorbital
      scaled or naked

11a.  Preopercular margin finely serrate;     Ambfycirrhitus
      first 2 supraneural bones in space
      before second neural spine;
      preorbital without a free hind
      margin; interorbital scaled; first
      dorsal soft ray not produced into a
      filament; lower 5 (rarely 6)
      pectoral rays unbranched

11b.  Preopercular margin coarsely            Cirrhitichthys
      serrate; all 3 supraneural bones in
      space before second neural spine;
      preorbital with a free hind margin
      for one-fourth to one-half distance
      from lower edge to eye; interorbital
      not scaled; first dorsal soft ray
      usually produced into a filament;
      lower 6 or 7 pectoral rays

Michelle R. Gaither (1-2) and John E. Randall (3)

1) California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118, USA. E-mail: 2) Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, P.O. Box 1346, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA. 3) Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817-2704, USA. E-mail:
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Author:Gaither, Michelle R.; Randall, John E.
Publication:aqua: International Journal of Ichthyology
Date:Oct 15, 2012
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