We use DNA sequencing and computational phylogenetics to resolve major parts of the phylogeny (or tree of life) for fishes, including many important coral reef fish groups. This is significant because the tree of life is a central framework for all of evolutionary biology, empowering the study of evolutionary rates for genes and the origin and diversification of important anatomical and biomechanical systems.
Specifically, much of our phylogenetic work has been focused on the Labridae, a diverse family of over 600 species that vary in body shape, size, coloration, and habitat. This is one of the most spectacular evolutionary radiations in shallow marine waters in the world. Other families studied include the butterflyfishes and angelfishes (Chaetodontidae and Pomacanthidae), the damselfishes (Pomacentridae) as wel as triggerfishes, goatfishes and surgeonfishes. Marine butterflyfishes and angelfishes are conspicuously beautiful and abundant animals found on coral reefs worldwide. These families have evolved a number of feeding specializations including long jaws, brush-like teeth, and novel jaw protrusion mechanisms. Recent work presents a complete topology for the family and sets us up to explore biogeographic patterns of fish diversity and explore conservation priorities for this economically valuable clade of fishes. The damselfishes are one of the most species-rich families of coral reef fishes, comprising an important component of temperate and tropical habitats in near-shore waters. A well-resolved, extensive phylogeny of this lineage has recently added to our evolutionary understanding of reef communities.