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Comprehensive Description

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This subfamily comprises the large commercially-important groupers of the region. There are several epinepheline genera with a single species in the region (one with two) and then two large genera, the Epinephelus and the Mycteroperca. The phylogenetics of the Serranidae have been recently examined by Craig and Hastings (2007), and they find that the regional Mycteroperca do form a distinct clade, but the regional Epinephelus split into three clades: the true Epinephelus including the common shallow-water species, the deep-water set of species (or Hyporthodus), and the deep-water E. drummondhayi (or Triso). Interestingly, Paranthias furcifer falls within the Cephalopholis clade, despite its derived form and non-benthic habits. This conclusion is reinforced by the report of hybrids between the two genera from both Noronha and Bermuda.

The basic body form and appearance of many groupers are the same and they are difficult to distinguish in the field. The two large genera are most easily separated by the anal-fin ray count: only eight soft rays (occasionally nine) in the Epinephelus and usually 11 or more (rarely 10) in the Mycteroperca (all have 11 dorsal-fin spines and 3 anal-fin spines, except E. nigritus with ten). Two small reef groupers, the Graysby and the Coney, belong to Cephalopholis, easily separated by having only nine dorsal-fin spines. The remaining regional epinephelines comprise Paranthias furcifer (with D-IX,18-19 A-III,9), Dermatolepis inermis (with D-XI,18-20 A-III,9), Alphestes afer (with D-XI,18-19 A-III,9), and the deep-water Gonioplectrus hispanus (with D-VIII,13 A-III,7).

Fin-ray counts can identify most Caribbean epinepheline larvae to genus relatively easily. However, within genera there is a broad overlap of fin-ray counts and little variation in body form, making DNA-sequence analyses critical to differentiating the larval groupers.

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