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Molecular systematics of the anchovy genus Encrasicholina in the Northwest Pacific

  • Sébastien Lavoué ,

    Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Resources, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

  • Joris A. M. Bertrand,

    Roles Formal analysis, Investigation, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliations Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, Department of Computational Biology, Biophore, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Génopode, Quartier Sorge, Lausanne, Switzerland

  • Hui-Yu Wang,

    Roles Data curation, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

  • Wei-Jen Chen,

    Roles Data curation, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Institute of Oceanography, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

  • Hsuan-Ching Ho,

    Roles Data curation, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, Pingtung, Taiwan

  • Hiroyuki Motomura,

    Roles Data curation, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation The Kagoshima University Museum, 1-21-30 Korimoto, Kagoshima, Japan

  • Harutaka Hata,

    Roles Data curation, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation The United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, Kagoshima University, 1-21-24 Korimoto, Kagoshima, Japan

  • Tetsuya Sado,

    Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Natural History Museum and Institute, Chiba, 955-2 Aoba-cho, Chuo-ku, Chiba, Japan

  • Masaki Miya

    Roles Funding acquisition, Methodology, Writing – review & editing

    Affiliation Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Natural History Museum and Institute, Chiba, 955-2 Aoba-cho, Chuo-ku, Chiba, Japan


The anchovy genus Encrasicholina is an important coastal marine resource of the tropical Indo-West Pacific (IWP) region for which insufficient comparative data are available to evaluate the effects of current exploitation levels on the sustainability of its species and populations. Encrasicholina currently comprises nine valid species that are morphologically very similar. Only three, Encrasicholina punctifer, E. heteroloba, and E. pseudoheteroloba, occur in the Northwest Pacific subregion of the northeastern part of the IWP region. These species are otherwise broadly distributed and abundant in the IWP region, making them the most important anchovy species for local fisheries. In this study, we reconstructed the phylogeny of these three species of Encrasicholina within the Engraulidae. We sequenced 10 complete mitochondrial genomes (using high-throughput and Sanger DNA sequencing technologies) and compared those sequences to 21 previously published mitochondrial genomes from various engraulid taxa. The phylogenetic results showed that the genus Encrasicholina is monophyletic, and it is the sister group to the more-diverse "New World anchovy" clade. The mitogenome-based dating results indicated that the crown group Encrasicholina originated about 33.7 million years ago (nearby the limit Eocene/Oligocene), and each species of Encrasicholina has been reproductively isolated from the others for more than 20 million years, despite their morphological similarities. In contrast, preliminary population genetic analyses across the Northwest Pacific region using four mitogenomic sequences revealed very low levels of genetic differentiation within Encrasicholina punctifer. These molecular results combined with recent taxonomic revisions are important for designing further studies on the population structure and phylogeography of these anchovies.


In the large tropical Indo-West Pacific (IWP) biogeographical region, inclusive of Hawaii Archipelago and Polynesia [1], endemic anchovies (Engraulidae; Clupeoidei) comprise about 50 species currently classified in seven genera: Coilia, Encrasicholina, Lycothrissa, Papuengraulis, Setipinna, Stolephorus, and Thryssa [25]. These seven genera do not form a monophyletic group because two of them, Stolephorus and Encrasicholina, were hypothesized to be more closely related to the "New World anchovy" clade than to other IWP genera [68]. New World anchovies (including Engraulis) along with Stolephorus and Encrasicholina make up the subfamily Engraulinae, whereas the other five IWP genera make up the subfamily Coiliinae [3,6].

The genus Encrasicholina currently comprises nine species inhabiting coastal waters throughout the IWP region. Six of these species have restricted geographical distributions: E. purpurea (Hawaiian Archipelago), E. auster (Fiji), E. oligobranchus (the Philippines), E. macrocephala (from the Red Sea to off the Sultanate of Oman), E. gloria (Persian Gulf and Red Sea), and E. intermedia (western Indian Ocean) [911]. The three other species are widely distributed from the West Indian Ocean to the Northwest Pacific: E. punctifer, E. heteroloba, and E. pseudoheteroloba [until recently, E. pseudoheteroloba was misidentified as E. heteroloba, and E. heteroloba was misidentified as E. devisi; see [12] for taxonomic revision]. These species form the major contribution of anchovy catches in many coastal fisheries in the IWP [13] including Taiwan's, where larvae of E. punctifer and E. pseudoheteroloba are targeted [1416], and they are also important baitfish in the West Pacific [17].

Nelson [7] resurrected the genus Encrasicholina (first erected by Fowler [18]) for some species that were formerly classified into the genus Stolephorus, because these species share three derived morphological characters with the New World genera and worldwide-distributed temperate genus Engraulis [6]: 1) a distinctive organization of sensory canals, 2) the fusion of a tooth-plate to the first epibranchial, and 3) the fusion between the preural centrum 1 and ural centrum 1 in the caudal skeleton. Grande and Nelson [6] demonstrated that the IWP genus Stolephorus is the sister group of Encrasicholina + New World genera + Engraulis, based on seven morphological synapomorphies. Molecular works supported the sister group relationship between Encrasicholina and the clade comprising the New World genera and Engraulis [1922], although each of those studies included only one or two species of Encrasicholina and incomplete character sampling. Therefore, previous studies have, at best, only partially addressed the monophyly of the genus Encrasicholina, and consequently, there is no reported morphological synapomorphy and limited genetic evidence supporting the monophyly of this genus. Species of Encrasicholina can be divided into two groups in regard to the profile of the head: species with a short rounded snout (E. punctifer, E. gloria, E. intermedia, and E. purpurea) and species with a longer snout (E. heteroloba, E. pseudoheteroloba, E. oligobranchus, E. macrocephala, and E. auster). In addition, rounded-snout species have a short maxilla with a blunt tip, whereas prominent-snout species have a longer maxilla with a pointed tip [3,12].

Species of Encrasicholina are small (7–10 cm in max. size) and are almost exclusively found within the coastal zone. The notable exception is E. punctifer, a species which prefers both neritic and oceanic waters [23]. Species of Encrasicholina for which biological data exist (i.e., E. punctifer, E. pseudoheteroloba [= E. heteroloba or Stolephorus heteroloba in earlier publications], E. heteroloba [= E. devisi or Stolephorus devisi in earlier publications], and E. purpurea), exhibit broad similarities in characteristics as they grow rapidly, attain sexual maturity in only a few months, and have a short lifespan of less than 1 year [14,24,25]. These species are multiple spawners over extended periods (sometimes extending throughout the year), but the interannual variability in recruitment is often high [26].

The fossil record of anchovies is considered disproportionately poor given their high abundance, with only a few fossil species known from the Neogene [6]. This observation is further corroborated by two recent molecule-based dating studies showing that the family Engraulidae may be as old as the late Cretaceous (i.e., 70–90 million years old) [19,22]. In 2016, however, a new and exceptional (given the rarity of anchovies in the fossil record) fossil specimen was described from the locality Monte Bolca (in northern Italy) as a new genus and a new species of anchovy, †Eoengraulis fasoloi [27]. This fossil somewhat fills the gap between the molecular time estimation and the fossil record information. Marramà and Carnevale [27] placed this fossil as the sister group of the subfamily Engraulinae, therefore, providing a strict minimum age for the crown group Engraulidae to about 50 million years ago (Ma). There is no fossil of Encrasicholina.

Herein, we studied the molecular systematics of the three most-widely distributed species of Encrasicholina (E. heteroloba, E. pseudoheteroloba, and E. punctifer) that occur in the Northwest Pacific region by sequencing five complete mitogenomic sequences using high-throughput DNA sequencing technology. To broaden the taxonomic comparison of available mitogenomic data, we also sequenced the complete mitogenomes of five additional anchovy species that occur in the Northwest Pacific region (Engraulis japonicus, Setipinna tenuifilis, and Thryssa dussumieri) and elsewhere (Thryssa setirostris and Anchoviella jamesi), using both high-throughput and Sanger sequencing technologies. Finally, our dataset offered a first (although limited) insight on the genetic differentiation within Encrasicholina punctifer.

Materials and methods

Ethics statement

This research was performed at the Natural History Museum & Institute (Chiba, Japan) and National Taiwan University (Taipei, Taiwan) in accordance with these institutions' guidelines regarding animal research. No ethics statement was required for this project as no experiment involved live fishes, and none of the species examined in this study is listed on the checklist of CITES ( or is under local protection policies. Seven fresh specimens examined in this study were purchased from local fish markets in Taiwan (4 specimens, Taiwan Strait, Anping fish market nearby Tainan City and Dong-shi fish market in Chiayi), Japan (2 specimens; Uchinoura Bay, Kagoshima fish market), and Thailand (one specimen, Andaman Sea, Phuket fish market); one specimen of E. punctifer (KAUM—I. 60438) was collected during a research cruise of R/V Kumamoto-maru in the East China Sea at 28°16.14'N, 123°14.52'E (in international waters); the specimen of Anchoviella jamesi was obtained from an ornamental fish supplier in Japan, "Aquashop Ishi to Izumi" (, and we euthanized it with an overdose of the anesthetic MS-222. The tissue samples from the Philippines were taken under a Memorandum of Agreement for joint research made by and among the Department of Agriculture of the Republic of the Philippines (DA), the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), the Kagoshima University Museum, the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, and Tokai University, facilitated by S. L. Sanchez [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), DA]. P. J. Alcala (DA) provided a Prior Informed Consent Certificate, and I. P. Cabacaba and S. M. S. Nolasco (BFAR, DA) provided a fish sample Export Certificate (No. 2016–39812). A tissue sample of a specimen of Thryssa setirostris was obtained through a legal tissue donation from the Universiti Sains Malaysia, an international research institute.

Sample preservation and taxonomic sampling

A small piece of muscle or fin was taken from each specimen and immediately fixed in 95% ethanol. The whole body was preserved in formaldehyde or ethanol. Combining our mitogenome sequences with sequences archived in GenBank, the taxonomic sampling included a total of 32 specimens representing 25 species of anchovies (Table 1). In all analyses, the family Engraulidae was assumed to be monophyletic, and Ilisha elongata (Pristigasteridae; Clupeoidei) was used to root the trees. Therefore, the root corresponded to crown-group Clupeoidei, because Engraulidae was hypothesized to be the sister group of the rest of the Clupeoidei, including the Pristigasteridae [4].

Table 1. List of taxa examined in this study with familial and subfamilial classifications indicated.

Within Encrasicholina, the nomenclature follows the recent revision by Hata and Motomura [9]; see text for details.

DNA extraction and mitochondrial genome sequencing

First, we extracted genomic DNA from the tissue samples using a commercial kit (DNeasy Blood and Tissue Kit, Qiagen, Hilden, Germany), following manufacture's protocol. All ten mitogenomes were amplified with a long Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) amplification technique into four overlapping fragments [28], following the standard laboratory protocol described in Miya and Nishida [29]. The primer sequences to amplify the four long fragments are: L12321-leu (5'- GGT CTT AGG AAC CAA AAA CTC TTG GTG CAA-3'), L2508-16S (5'-CTC GGC AAA CAT AAG CCT CGC CTG TTT ACC AAA AAC-3'), L8343-lys (5'- AGC GTT GGC CTT TTA AGC TAA WGA TWG GTG-3'), H12293-leu (5'-TTG CAC CAA GAG TTT TTG GTT CCT AAG ACC-3'), H1065-12S (5'- GGC ATA GTG GGG TAT CTA ATC CCA GTT TGT-3'), H15149-cytb (5'- GGT GGC KCC TCA GAA GGA CAT TTG KCC TCA-3') and HS-LA-16S (5'- TGC ACC ATT RGG ATG TCC TGA TCC AAC ATC-3'). For nine specimens (see Table 1), the long PCR products were sequenced using high-throughput DNA sequencing technology as following: the genetic libraries were prepared from the long PCR products using Nextera XT DNA Library Preparation Kit (Illumina, San Diego, USA) following manufacture's protocol and then sequenced using a MiSeq Sequencing platform (Illumina) at Natural History Museum and Institute, Chiba. The long PCR products of Anchoviella jamesi were used as templates to amplify short (<1500 bp), contiguous and overlapping segments of the mitogenome using short PCR technique [29]. Short PCR fragments were purified using an ExoSap enzyme reaction, before being used as templates for direct cycle sequencing with dye-labeled terminators (Sanger sequencing technology). All sequencing reactions were performed according to the manufacturer’s instructions (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, USA) with sequencing primers used as the same as those used for PCR. Labeled fragments were run on a 3130xl Genetic Analyzer (Applied Biosystems).

Mitogenome reconstruction and annotation

To reconstruct the fish mitochondrial genome sequence of each individual from read data generated by a high-throughput sequencing technique, we used the baiting and iterative mapping procedure implemented in MITObim v1.8 [30]. Raw reads were first trimmed by quality with the FASTQ Quality Trimmer script [31] available in the online Galaxy portal ( Reads were trimmed at both the 5' and 3' ends until the aggregate quality score was ≥ 20 (all other settings were kept to default values). We performed reconstructions following two main approaches available in the MITObim pipeline. We first used as a starting reference previously published mitochondrial genomes of taxa that are closely related to the target species (Table 2). We then used conspecific (or congeneric) COI sequences as a seed to initiate the process. The program was used with the option—pair, and baiting stringency was lowered (—kbait < 31) for some individuals for which the process could not be initiated (all others settings were kept to default values). The circularity of the mitochondrial genomes was inferred thanks to editing features provided in Geneious 6.1.8 [32], and raw reads were mapped-back onto the result sequences to check for assembly success and assess coverage.

Table 2. Characteristics of high-throughput sequencing data (Illumina) for each reconstructed mitogenome and corresponding reference mitochondrial genome information.

For Anchoviella jamesi, the sequence electropherograms were edited with EditView version 1.0.1 (Applied Biosystems). Sequencher software package version 4.1.2 (Gene Codes, Ann Arbor, MI, USA) and DNASIS version 3.2 (Hitachi Software Engineering, Yokohama, Japan) were used to concatenate the consensus mitogenomic sequence.

The consensus sequences were annotated using the pipeline "MitoAnnotator" of MitoFish [33] and then exported for analyses. The gene content and order of the newly determined mitogenomic sequences were typical of those found in most other teleosts [34]. Table 1 provides information on the specimens included in our study, including accession numbers for mitogenome data archived in the DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank database.

Across the 33 sequences considered herein (i.e., 32 ingroup taxa plus one outgroup), sequences at each protein-coding gene were manually aligned with respect to the translated amino acid sequence except for the ND6 gene that was excluded from subsequent phylogenetic analyses because of its heterogeneous base composition. The 12S and 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sequences, as well as the concatenated 22 transfer RNA (tRNA) genes, were aligned with the software Proalign vers. 0.5 [35] using default parameter settings. Regions with posterior probabilities of ≤ 90% were excluded from subsequent analyses. The aligned data matrix (14,625 positions in total) included concatenated nucleotide sequences from 22 tRNA genes (1567 positions) and the two rRNA genes (2183 positions) plus the codon positions of 12 protein-coding genes (10,875 positions). The pairwise uncorrected genetic distances between mitogenomes of Encrasicholina punctifer were calculated using the software Sequencher on the total length of the mitogenomes.

Phylogenetic analyses and divergence time estimation

We first inferred partitioned maximum likelihood (ML) phylogenetic trees using the software RAxML [36] with its graphical interface, raxmlGUI 0.9Beta3 [37] from the mitogenomic matrix previously built. We used PartitionFinder v1.1.1 [38] to calculate the best partition scheme from 38 basic partitions (i.e. the first, second and third positions of each coding-protein nuclear genes along with the concatenated 12S/16S rRNAs and the concatenated 22 tRNA genes). A 21 partitions scheme was inferred and for each of these partitions, we applied a general time-reversible model of sequence evolution with gamma rate variation ("GTR + G" model) and four discrete rate categories.

We performed ML heuristic phylogenetic searches under the general time reversible model with discrete gamma-distributed rate heterogeneity [GTR + G] and data partitioning as described above. We performed 100 searches for each three analyses and found the best ML tree by comparing final likelihoods among the 100 inferred trees. To evaluate the robustness of the internal branches of the ML tree, 1000 bootstrap replicates were calculated for each matrix under the GTR + G model.

We then simultaneously inferred the phylogeny and divergence times (with their 95% credibility intervals) using a partitioned Bayesian method that incorporated a relaxed molecular clock, as implemented in MrBayes v3.2.2 [39]. The matrix was partitioned as before, and the GTR + G model of sequence evolution was again chosen for each of the 21 data partitions, with parameters unlinked between partitions. The relaxed molecular clock followed a lognormal prior with an uncorrelated independent gamma rates (IGR) model.

The age of the Engraulidae and the age of the tree root were constrained using the latest paleontological information as indicated hereafter. We enforced the monophyly of the taxon "Engraulidae" in order to root the tree, thereby constraining Ilisha elongata to be the outgroup. Each of the two age-constraints followed an exponential distribution with a strict minimum age and a relaxed maximum age within the 95% credibility interval (95% CI). Two independent MCMC runs were initiated in parallel for 50 million generations, sampling the trees every 5,000 generations with the first 25% of samples discarded as burn-in and the remaining tree samples, from the two runs, pooled together. Each run’s parameters were checked for convergence with the Tracer v.1.6 software [40]. The maximum clade credibility tree with mean divergence times and 95% CIs were automatically calculated from the combined tree samples in MrBayes.

Lavoué et al [19] discussed the quality of the fossil record of Clupeoidei. Hereafter, we update their discussion because several paleontological works published after 2013 significantly improved the knowledge on the evolution of Clupeoidei with the descriptions of several new taxa and the taxonomic revisions of some others. There are, however, three critical issues that still limit the use of many clupeoid fossils in molecular dating: 1) the families Dussumieriidae and Clupeidae are likely reciprocally not monophyletic [19,22,41]; 2) the higher taxonomic-level phylogeny of Clupeoidei is still mostly unresolved [4]; and 3) older clupeoid fossils often exhibit puzzling combinations of morphological characters relative to extant taxa [4244]. Altogether, this makes difficult to elucidate the phylogenetic positions of several clupeoid fossils.

The Clupeoidei appeared in the fossil record of the Late Cretaceous with two freshwater taxa from South America, †Pseudoellimma gallae (Barremian; 129.4–125.0 Ma) [45] and †Cynoclupea nelsoni (family †Cynoclupeidae; limit Barremian/Aptian; 125.0 Ma) [43]. While †Pseudoellimma gallae is considered a stem clupeoid [45], Malabarba and Di Dario [43] suggested that †Cynoclupea nelsoni is a crown clupeoid. Therefore, using †Cynoclupea nelsoni, we constrained the minimum age of the root of our tree (which corresponds to crown group Clupeoidei) to 125 Ma and relaxed the 95% CI maximum age to 145 Ma (limit Jurassic/Cretaceous) because of the absence of any Jurassic clupeoid, clupeiform and clupeomorph fossils. This interval of time (145–125 Ma) is reasonably congruent with the overall fossil record of the Clupeoidei [4251] and more generally, with the fossil record of the Teleostei [52].

Recent paleontological works showed that during the Late Cretaceous and the early Cenozoic, the clupeoids greatly diversified in forms and space. Fossils include †Garganoclupea svetovidovi (†Garganoclupeidae) and †Apricenaclupea ridewoodi (Clupeidae) from the Santonian (Italy, Apricena) [51], †Nolfia riachuelensis (Clupeidae) from the Albian (Brazil) [42], †Lecceclupea ehiravaensis and †Italoclupea nolfi (Clupeidae) from the Campano-Maastrichthian (Italy, Nardò) [47,48], †Trollichthys bolcensis (Dussumieriidae) [44], †Bolcaichthys catopygopterus (Clupeidae) [49] and most importantly for this work, †Eoengraulis fasoloi (Engraulidae) from the Eocene (Italy, Monte Bolca) [27]. Whereas the phylogenetic positions of most of these fossils are unresolved, Marramà and Carnevale [27] strongly suggested that †Eoengraulis fasoloi, is the sister group of the subfamily Engraulinae. Consequently, this fossil provides a strict minimum age of 50 Ma for the most recent common ancestor of the Engraulidae. The 95% CI maximum age was set to 86.3 Ma corresponding to the limit Coniacian/Santonian because most of the crown group clupeoid fossils are younger.

Results and discussion

High-throughput mitogenomic sequence quality and assembly

For each specimen, reads corresponding to mitochondrial genome were effectively identified from total sequence reads with a sample-specific indexing system. After sequence trimming by removing low-quality sequences, the read number per specimen varied from 72,558 to 230,072 (see Table 2 for details).

From these data, we successfully reconstructed complete circular mitogenomes for all of the specimens (see Table 2 for details). Both methods of consensus reconstruction, as implemented in MITObim, provided highly concordant results through the entire sequence even if we noted some discordances in a few very limited fragments (the length of which was always < 1% of the total mitogenome sequence). These discordances were often associated with regions containing repeated elements where uncertainty in read mapping could have altered the reconstruction process. Therefore, we decided to remove these potentially problematic blocks from the final alignments. Despite differences in read coverage that might be attributed to unequal concentrations of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products in the mix, the overall length and the good quality of the paired-end reads allowed us to check the reliability of the consensus sequences inferred (with a mean coverage > 869 X).

Phylogenetic and dating results

The ML analysis yielded a fully resolved phylogenetic tree with most of the relationships strongly supported by high bootstrap proportions (BPs) (Fig 1). In this tree, the family Engraulidae was divided into two clades corresponding to the two subfamilies Coiliinae and Engraulinae (BPs = 100%); this is congruent with the results of several morphological and molecular studies [6,8,19,20,22]. The Coiliinae comprises the sampled IWP genera Coilia, Thryssa, Lycothrissa, and Setipinna, whereas the Engraulinae includes the IWP genera Stolephorus and Encrasicholina along with the "New World anchovy" clade representative genera Lycengraulis, Amazonsprattus, Anchoviella, and Engraulis.

Fig 1. Maximum likelihood tree of the Engraulidae from analysis of the mitogenomic matrix.

Branch lengths are proportional to the number of substitutions per nucleotide position (scale bar = 0.3 substitutions). Numbers at nodes are Bootstrap Proportions (indicated in percentage). The tree is rooted with Ilisha elongata (Pristigasteridae). The genus Encrasicholina is highlighted in grey. See text for details on the method of phylogenetic reconstruction.

The genus Encrasicholina formed a monophyletic group (BP = 100%) with E. punctifer being the sister group of E. pseudoheteroloba plus E. heteroloba (BP = 100%). Encrasicholina was the sister group of the "New World anchovy" clade (BP = 100%). Despite high morphological similarities among species of Encrasicholina, in particular between E. pseudoheteroloba and E. heteroloba, each of the three species lineages was genetically well distinct; this indicates that genetic and morphological differentiations are decoupled in Encrasicholina when compared to other anchovy groups [20,21].

In addition to these phylogenetic results and although our taxonomic sampling was still far from comprehensive within the subfamily Coiliinae, we detected a strong signal to support: 1) the paraphyly of the genus Setipinna relative to Lycothrissa [5]; and 2) the polyphyly of the genus Thryssa which comprises two independent lineages. The first lineage comprises Thryssa dussumieri and Thryssa setirostris, two species with long maxilla, whereas the second lineage includes Thryssa baelama and Thryssa kammalensis, two species with much-shorter maxilla [3].

The taxonomy and nomenclature of the genus Thryssa are complicated, and they are in need of a thorough revision. The non-monophyly of this genus, as found herein, adds difficulties to these problematic taxa. Whereas Grande and Nelson [6] recognized the genus Thrissina for Thrissina baelama, Whitehead et al. [3] synonymized it with Thryssa. According to Whitehead et al. [3], Thryssa comprises 24 species classified in three subgenera: Thryssa (type species: T. setirostris), Thrissina (type species: T. baelama), and Scutengraulis (type species: T. hamiltonii). Kottelat [53] pointed out that Thryssa is not a valid name, and he proposed replacing it with Thrissina. Eschmeyer et al. [2], however, did not follow Kottelat [53] and retained the name Thryssa for the sake of stability. If the genus Thryssa sensu [3] is confirmed not to be monophyletic, with T. setirostris and T. baelama belonging to two independent lineages, two generic names will be necessary for these lineages. Before introducing any taxonomic or nomenclatural changes, the study of a denser taxonomic sampling within Thryssa is necessary to better identify the content of each lineage.

The topology of the Bayesian timetree (Fig 2) was the same as the topology of the ML phylogenetic tree inferred from the same matrix and data partitioning. Using the age of †Eoengraulis fasoloi to constrain the minimum age of the crown group Engraulidae and setting the divergence Pristigasteridae/Engraulidae within the range of 145–125 Ma, we inferred the age of the most recent common ancestor of Engraulidae (i.e., the age of the crown group) to 70.3 Ma [95% CI = 89.5~50.1 Ma].

Fig 2. Phylogenetic chronogram of the Engraulidae based on a Bayesian relaxed clock analysis.

The outgroup Ilisha elongata is not shown. Horizontal timescale is in million years before present (Ma) (Paleogene Epoch abbreviations: Paleo, Paleocene; Eo, Eocene; and Oligo, Oligocene). The yellow and grey horizontal bars at nodes are 95% age credibility intervals. The grey horizontal bar indicates calibration constraint of Engraulidae age. Numbers in italics given at nodes are the Bayesian posterior probabilities when <1. See text for details on the method of time-calibrated phylogenetic reconstruction.

Three recent time-calibrated phylogenetic trees have been published for the family Engraulidae [19,22,54]. The age estimation of the family Engraulidae among these three studies varied by a factor of almost 10, from only 9.3 Ma (95% CI = 10.2~8.5 Ma) in [54] to about 89 Ma (95% CI = 100~80 Ma) in [22]. The estimation of Silva et al [54] is in conflict with the fossil record. For example, the oldest crown group engraulid, †Eoengraulis fasoloi, is 40 My older than the age of the crown group Engraulidae inferred in Silva et al [54]. Similarly, †Cynoclupea nelsoni provides a strict minimum age of 125 Ma for the divergence between Denticeps (Denticipitoidei) and the Clupeoidei whereas Silva et al [54] estimated this divergence to only 22 Ma.

Bloom and Lovejoy [22] estimated the age of the Engraulidae to about 89 Ma (95% CI = 100~80 Ma), this is almost 20 My older than our estimation. We point out three potential caveats regarding to the fossil selection and the phylogeny results in [22] which could explain the difference with our estimation: 1) Bloom and Lovejoy [22] used the Late Cretaceous-Paleocene †Gasteroclupea branisai, which was considered a stem pristigasterid at that time, to constrain the time divergence between Pristigasteridae and Engraulidae. However, Marramà and Carnevale [55] showed that this fossil is not a pristigasterid and even not a clupeiform. According to Marramà and Carnevale [55], †Gasteroclupea branisai belongs to the sister group of Clupeiformes, the †Ellimmichthyiformes; 2) Bloom and Lovejoy [22] used the oldest clupeid, †Nolfia riachuelensis, to calibrate the age of Clupeidae (including Sundasalanx). According to De Figueiredo [42], however, the phylogenetic position of †Nolfia riachuelensis within the Clupeidae is rather uncertain and, furthermore, the family Clupeidae is not monophyletic relative to the family Dussumieriidae and the relationships among the main clupeoid lineages are still not resolved; 3) Bloom and Lovejoy [22] recovered Denticeps (Denticipitoidei) as the sister group of the rest of the Otocephala and not of the Clupeoidei as it is supported by morphological data and by most of the recent molecular studies [50,56,57]. Bloom and Lovejoy [22] used the oldest crown group Otocephala (= Ostarioclupeomorpha), †Tischlingerichthys viohli (Thitonian; 149 Ma) [58], to calibrate the divergence between Ostariophysi and the Clupeoidei, excluding Denticeps. Therefore, their estimation necessarily overestimated the age of Otocephala and, consequently, the age of Engraulidae.

Using a different and non-overlapping set of fossils along with a different taxonomic sampling, we note that the overall time divergence of Engraulidae in Lavoué et al. [19] is rather congruent with our estimation.

Fig 2 shows that the crown group Encrasicholina originated about 33.7 Ma (nearby the limit Eocene/Oligocene) [95% CI = 46.5~21.6 Ma], and each of the three species lineages of Encrasicholina was already separated 23.8 Ma (nearby the limit Oligocene/Miocene) [95% CI = 34.8~13.5 Ma]. It is noteworthy to mention that Encrasicholina and its sister group the "New World anchovy" clade began to diversify at about the same period (Oligocene), but they then experienced diametrical opposite evolutionary trajectories. Encrasicholina comprises only nine species that are morphologically and ecologically very similar, and they all occur in the IWP region, whereas the "New World anchovy" clade, beside the fact it occurs in a different region, is by far more speciose (about ten times more so), more diverse morphologically (e.g., paedomorphic Amazonsprattus or sabertooth Lycengraulis), and more diverse ecologically (e.g., marine and freshwater species). In the context of the phylogeny of the Engraulinae, Encrasicholina appears to have retained several ancestral characters, whereas conditions observed in the "New World anchovy" clade are more derived and diversified.

Biogeography insights

Anchovies are widely distributed in the world, with most species living in marine tropical environments, and few species secondarily adapted to marine temperate environments and freshwater tropical environments [19,21]. Anchovies likely originated in the proto-IWP region when this region was connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Tethys Sea [19]. This scenario is also indirectly supported by the oldest anchovy excavated, †Eoengraulis fasoloi, which lived during the Eocene in the Tethys region (currently northern Italy) [27].

Our study provides further insights into the historical biogeography of these fishes and their interoceanic distribution. It shows that the most recent common ancestor of the clade comprising the "New World anchovy" clade and Encrasicholina lived about 48 Ma, well before the closure of the Tethys Sea that is dated to about 23 Ma, when the Afro-Arabic plate collided with the Eurasian plate. The closure of the Tethys Sea is considered to have had important consequences for the biogeography of marine organisms. However, within our time-calibrated phylogenetic framework, the hypothesis that it was the cause of the divergence between the "New World clade" and Encrasicholina was rejected.

Intraspecific differentiation in Encrasicholina punctifer

The three complete mitogenomes determined in this study for Encrasicholina punctifer (from Taiwan, the East China Sea, and Japan) were very similar to each other. They are also very similar to a previously determined partial mitogenome (about 12,000 bp) of a specimen collected near the Mariana Trench [20]. There are a maximum of 42 substitutions between specimens S15 and S17 (pairwise genetic distance ~ 0.25%) and a minimum of six substitutions between specimens S17 and S12 (pairwise genetic distance ~ 0.04%). In particular, we detected only one substitution in the COI gene and no substitution in the cytochrome b gene among the four specimens examined. These two genes are often used in population genetic analyses because of their fast rate of evolution. The small genetic divergence found here tends to indicate that the population of E. punctifer in this region is of recent origin with extremely low genetic differentiation or that substantial amount of intraspecific gene flow has occurred among populations of E. punctifer at a broad spatial scale. These preliminary results should be useful when choosing appropriate genetic markers to further examine the population genetics of this species.


This study was supported by a research grant (MOST103-2119-M-002-019-MY3) from the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan to S.L. and JSPS/MEXT Kakenhi (No. 26291083) to M.M. We thank the staff of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension of the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV), and UPV Museum of Natural Sciences, College of Fisheries, UPV, including R. P. Babaran, S. S. Garibay, U. B. Alama, V. G. Urbina, L. H. Mooc, C. J. N. Rubido, E. P. Abunal, A. M. T. Guzman, R. S. Cruz, A. C. Gaje, and R. F. M. Traifalgar, and graduate students of the College of Fisheries, UPV for their support of the field surveys. We thank staff of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre for donating the fish samples from Thailand. Prof. M.N. Siti Azizah (Universiti Sains Malaysia) kindly donated the tissue sample of Thryssa setirostris. We are grateful to all members of Hans Ho's lab, Hui Yu Wang's lab and Wei-Jen Chen's lab in helping us to collect and process some samples used in this study. Finally, we thank the two reviewers for their comments which helped to improve this manuscript.


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