Cryptic Diversity of African Tigerfish (Genus Hydrocynus) Reveals Palaeogeographic Signatures of Linked Neogene Geotectonic Events

The geobiotic history of landscapes can exhibit controls by tectonics over biotic evolution. This causal relationship positions ecologically specialized species as biotic indicators to decipher details of landscape evolution. Phylogeographic statistics that reconstruct spatio-temporal details of evolutionary histories of aquatic species, including fishes, can reveal key events of drainage evolution, notably where geochronological resolution is insufficient. Where geochronological resolution is insufficient, phylogeographic statistics that reconstruct spatio-temporal details of evolutionary histories of aquatic species, notably fishes, can reveal key events of drainage evolution. This study evaluates paleo-environmental causes of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) based phylogeographic records of tigerfishes, genus Hydrocynus, in order to reconstruct their evolutionary history in relation to landscape evolution across Africa. Strong geographical structuring in a cytochrome b (cyt-b) gene phylogeny confirms the established morphological diversity of Hydrocynus and reveals the existence of five previously unknown lineages, with Hydrocynus tanzaniae sister to a clade comprising three previously unknown lineages (Groups B, C and D) and H. vittatus. The dated phylogeny constrains the principal cladogenic events that have structured Hydrocynus diversity from the late Miocene to the Plio-Pleistocene (ca. 0–16 Ma). Phylogeographic tests reveal that the diversity and distribution of Hydrocynus reflects a complex history of vicariance and dispersals, whereby range expansions in particular species testify to changes to drainage basins. Principal divergence events in Hydrocynus have interfaced closely with evolving drainage systems across tropical Africa. Tigerfish evolution is attributed to dominant control by pulses of geotectonism across the African plate. Phylogenetic relationships and divergence estimates among the ten mtDNA lineages illustrates where and when local tectonic events modified Africa's Neogene drainage. Haplotypes shared amongst extant Hydrocynus populations across northern Africa testify to recent dispersals that were facilitated by late Neogene connections across the Nilo-Sahelian drainage. These events in tigerfish evolution concur broadly with available geological evidence and reveal prominent control by the African Rift System, evident in the formative events archived in phylogeographic records of tigerfish.