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Muscles versus bones: catfishes as a case study for a discussion on the relative contribution of myological and osteological features in phylogenetic reconstructions

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The levels of homoplasy and phylogenetic reliability of different types of data sets have since long intrigued evolutionary scientists. This paper provides, to the author's knowledge, the first assessment of the relative contribution of a large set of myological and osteological characters in simultaneous phylogenetic analyses. The biological taxon used as a case study for this comparison was the highly diverse and cosmopolitan teleost Siluriformes (catfishes) which, with 34 families, about 437 genera and more than 2700 species, represents about one third of all freshwater fishes and one of the most diverse vertebrate groups. Such a direct comparison of the relative contribution of these two types of data sets has the advantage that the homoplasy levels and the phylogenetic trees being compared refer to the same group and, more importantly, to the very same terminal taxa. The overall analysis of the results presented in this work seems to indicate that: (1) osteological structures display a greater morphological variation than myological ones; (2) this difference (which is very likely overenhanced by the fact that the phylogenetic variation of osteological structures has historically been the subject of many more studies and descriptions than myological ones) is particularly notable in small taxa, such as genera or species; (3) myological characters provide, however, a high proportion of informative characters for disclosing the relationships between larger taxa, and, thus, for disclosing the phylogeny of the higher clades in which these taxa are included. These results raise some puzzling, general questions. For instance, what are the reasons for the seemingly greater morphological variation of osteological structures? And why is this greater morphological variation of osteological structures in relation to myological structures particularly pronounced in low ranking taxa? Does natural selection eventually act, in certain cases, more on bones than on muscles? Is the development of myological structures eventually more constrained than that of osteological features? What explains the apparently high reliability of muscular characters to disclose the higher-level phylogeny of higher taxa? More direct comparisons, either of other major groups of teleosts or of vertebrates in general, are clearly needed to infer if the patterns found in the direct comparison of this work correspond to a more general phylogenetic pattern, or instead refer to a particular situation found in the order Siluriformes.


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