Connectivity across the Caribbean Sea: DNA Barcoding and Morphology Unite an Enigmatic Fish Larva from the Florida Straits with a New Species of Sea Bass from Deep Reefs off Curaçao
Integrative taxonomy, in which multiple disciplines are combined to address questions related to biological species diversity, is a valuable tool for identifying pelagic marine fish larvae and recognizing the existence of new fish species. Here we combine data from DNA barcoding, comparative morphology, and analysis of color patterns to identify an unusual fish larva from the Florida Straits and demonstrate that it is the pelagic larval phase of a previously undescribed species of Liopropoma sea bass from deep reefs off Curaçao, southern Caribbean. The larva is unique among larvae of the teleost family Serranidae, Tribe Liopropomini, in having seven elongate dorsal-fin spines. Adults of the new species are similar to the golden bass, Liopropoma aberrans, with which they have been confused, but they are distinct genetically and morphologically. The new species differs from all other western Atlantic liopropomins in having IX, 11 dorsal-fin rays and in having a unique color pattern–most notably the predominance of yellow pigment on the dorsal portion of the trunk, a pale to white body ventrally, and yellow spots scattered across both the dorsal and ventral portions of the trunk. Exploration of deep reefs to 300 m using a manned submersible off Curaçao is resulting in the discovery of numerous new fish species, improving our genetic databases, and greatly enhancing our understanding of deep-reef fish diversity in the southern Caribbean. Oh the mother and child reunion is only a moment away.