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taxon links [up-->]Siluriformes [up-->]Gymnotiformes [up-->]Characiformes extinct icon Phylogenetic position of group is uncertain[down<--]Teleostei Interpreting the tree
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This tree diagram shows the relationships between several groups of organisms.

The root of the current tree connects the organisms featured in this tree to their containing group and the rest of the Tree of Life. The basal branching point in the tree represents the ancestor of the other groups in the tree. This ancestor diversified over time into several descendent subgroups, which are represented as internal nodes and terminal taxa to the right.

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Containing group: Teleostei

Notes about Terminal Taxa

The Gonorynchiformes includes two modern Indo-Pacific species (Chanos chanos, Gonorynchus gonorynchus) placed in monotypic families. Several fossils are assigned to the Chanidae and Gonorynchidae (Patterson, 1975, 1987), the oldest of which are early Cretaceous. There are 24 extant gonorynchiform species in the African freshwater family Kneriidae.

Characins, catfishes, electric (knife) fishes, carps and loaches comprise a well-known higher teleostean lineage named Otophysi (Ostariophysi in older literature). This clade accounts for over 25% of modern fish species (Nelson, 1994), and most of these live exclusively in freshwater.

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

Otophysan monophyly is supported by several synapomorphies of which the best known are auditory specializations of the inner ear, anterior vertebrae (the Weberian complex), and gas bladder. Greenwood et al. (1966) and Rosen and Greenwood (1970) found related modifications of the gas bladder and other structures in the Gonorynchiformes. Rosen and Greenwood (1970) united the gonorynchiforms with characins, catfishes, cypriniforms and knife fishes into Ostariophysi, and coined the new name Otophysi for the more traditional assemblage (i.e. less gonorynchiforms). The hypothesis of sister taxon relationship between the Gonorynchiformes and Otophysi has held up under subsequent study.

In 1981 Fink and Fink published a cladistic study of the Otophysi that significantly departed from traditional concepts of interrelationships. A clade uniting Gymnotiformes plus Siluriformes was proposed to be the sister lineage of Characiforms, and these three are the sister taxon of the Cypriniformes.


Fink, S. V. and W. L. Fink. 1981. Interrelationships of the ostariophysan fishes (Teleostei). Zool. J. Linn. Soc. 72: 297-353.

Greenwood, P. H., D. E. Rosen, S. H. Weitzman and G. S. Myers. 1966. Phyletic studies of teleostean fishes, with a provisional classification of living forms. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 131:339-455.

Patterson, C. 1975. The distribution of Mesozoic freshwater fishes. Pp. 156-174. In Biogéographie et liaisons intercontinentales au cours du Mésozoïque. Mém. Mus. Natl. d'Hist. Nat. nouv. sér., Paris, sér. A, Zool. 88.

Patterson, C.1984. Chanoides, A Marine Eocene Otophysan Fish (Teleostei: Ostariophysi). J. Vert. Paleontol. 4:430-456.

Rosen, D. and P. H. Greenwood. 1970. Origin of the Weberian apparatus and relationships of the ostariophysan and gonorynchiform fishes. Am. Mus. Novit. 2468:1-49.

Information on the Internet

Title Illustrations
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Scientific Name Ostariophysi
Location Lower Orinoco River, Venezuela
Comments A typical sample of characins, catfishes and electric fishes
Specimen Condition Dead Specimen
Copyright © 1978 Jonathan N. Baskin
About This Page

Page: Tree of Life Ostariophysi. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Tree of Life Web Project. 1995. Ostariophysi. Version 01 January 1995 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Ostariophysi/15077/1995.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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This page is a Tree of Life Branch Page.

Each ToL branch page provides a synopsis of the characteristics of a group of organisms representing a branch of the Tree of Life. The major distinction between a branch and a leaf of the Tree of Life is that each branch can be further subdivided into descendent branches, that is, subgroups representing distinct genetic lineages.

For a more detailed explanation of the different ToL page types, have a look at the Structure of the Tree of Life page.

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