Evolution and systematics

A revision in 1997 recognized 14 genera and 62 species of mullets as valid. Their relationships to other spiny-rayed teleosts are unclear. Skeletal features suggest affinities either to perciforms or to atherinomorphs. Morphological analyses have indicated that mugilids are part of the group Smeg-mamorpha, with the Synbranchiformes (swamp and spiny eels), Elassomatidae (pygmy sunfishes), Gasterosteiformes (sticklebacks, pipefishes, and relatives), and Atherinomorpha (silversides, livebearers, and relatives). Analyses of complete mitochondrial DNA sequences indicate that mugilids are related most closely to atherinomorphs and that the Synbranchiformes form the next most closely related group to the mugilids and atherinomorphs.

According to anatomical studies of the pharyngobranchial region of the head, Agonostomus is the most primitive of the mugilid genera. Joturus, Cestraeus, and Aldrichetta are, respectively, the next most derived lineages. Evolutionary relationships between the remaining, higher mullets, such as Mugil, Myxus, Liza, and Valamugil have not been resolved in published work. The oldest known mugilid fossils are skeletal remains of Mugil princeps, collected from 30- to 40-million-year-old Menilite beds of Poland and the Ukraine.

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