Evolution and systematics

The four families in this grouping are part of the suborder Labroidei. The families are: Labridae (the wrasses); Scari-dae (the parrotfishes); Pomacentridae (the damselfishes); and Odacidae (the rock whitings, or butterfishes, of western Pacific waters; the butterfishes of North America represent a different family).

The family Labridae is a large one, with approximately 500 species in 60 genera. The next largest of the four families is the Pomacentridae, with more than 320 species in 28 genera, followed by the Scaridae, with 83 species in 9 genera, and finally the Odacidae, with 12 species in 4 genera.

The taxonomy of these four families is under dispute, and several studies are under way to iron out the relationships. In fact, some taxonomists feel the scarids and odacids, which are believed to have evolved from labrids, should actually be listed as subfamilies within Labridae. Other researchers have focused their work on the evolutionary relationships among genera within families. As the genetic makeup of individual species becomes a more prominent tool in defining evolutionary relationships, there is little doubt that some shaking looms ahead for these branches of the tree of life.

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