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Molecular phylogeny and evolution of specialization in anemonefishes and in their host sea anemones


The relationship existing between speciation rate and degree of specialization in fishes and more generally in organisms has been described but never fully exploited. The research we proposed focuses on a widely speciating group of marine fishes, the so-ca lled anemonefishes or clownfishes. Anemonefishes all belong to only two genera: Amphiprion (27 species) and Premnas (1 species). The two genera comprise only anemonefishes, These groups of fishes and the tropical sea anemones that host them are an astonish ing example of extreme specialization resulting in the evolution of a symbiotic behavior involving two animal species. Some anemonefishes are specialized to cooperate with a single or few species of sea anemone, being immune to their poisonous tentacles bu t sensible to those of other species of sea anemones, while other anemonefishes are more generalist and able to live together with a number of different kind of anemones. Anemonefishes diffuse through a pelagic larval form that can last about 4 weeks. The main goals of the project are to elucidate the process of speciation that anemonefishes went through and tc construct a comprehensive phylogeny of the taxon, to investigate the evolution of specialization in anemonefishes through character reconstruction a nalyses, to construct a partial phylogeny of those see anemones that act as a host to anemonefishes and to possibly elucidate the co-evolution of anemonefishes anu sea anemones. The originality of the proposal is clearly stated by the almost complete la ck of studies on the proposed subject. The proposed project fits perfectly well with the overall objectives that the European Union is currently setting as priority in the Sixth. Framework Programme. We believe that the structuring of the European Research Area wil be stimulated by this project, in the way that it will contribute to develop a framework of evolutionary informatior that must be the basis of any management and conservation action.

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