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    Morphological and Genetic Evidence for Multiple Evolutionary Distinct Lineages in the Endangered and Commercially Exploited Red Lined Torpedo Barbs Endemic to the Western Ghats of India

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    <div><p>Red lined torpedo barbs (RLTBs) (Cyprinidae: <i>Puntius</i>) endemic to the Western Ghats Hotspot of India, are popular and highly priced freshwater aquarium fishes. Two decades of indiscriminate exploitation for the pet trade, restricted range, fragmented populations and continuing decline in quality of habitats has resulted in their ‘Endangered’ listing. Here, we tested whether the isolated RLTB populations demonstrated considerable variation qualifying to be considered as distinct conservation targets. Multivariate morphometric analysis using 24 size-adjusted characters delineated all allopatric populations. Similarly, the species-tree highlighted a phylogeny with 12 distinct RLTB lineages corresponding to each of the different riverine populations. However, coalescence-based methods using mitochondrial DNA markers identified only eight evolutionarily distinct lineages. Divergence time analysis points to recent separation of the populations, owing to the geographical isolation, more than 5 million years ago, after the lineages were split into two ancestral stocks in the Paleocene, on north and south of a major geographical gap in the Western Ghats. Our results revealing the existence of eight evolutionarily distinct RLTB lineages calls for the re-determination of conservation targets for these cryptic and endangered taxa.</p></div