Ichthyology in the Neotropics has recently undergone a great and important transformation. Until 40 years ago, most studies of the megadiverse fish fauna of South and Central America were conducted by foreign researchers, who based their research mainly on sparse collections in North American and European museums. These scientists had limited opportunities to study and collect species in their natural habitats. Since then, cooperative projects among researchers working on Neotropical fishes from many different countries have blossomed, and the number of native South and Central American ichthyologists and students has increased tremendously. That increased capacity, and the many opportunities to collect and analyze data afforded by the closer geographic proximity of researchers to the fishes and their environment has allowed an entirely new view of fish diversity. Ichthyological knowledge in South and Central America has reached an unprecedented level, and the number of studies and publications on the phylogeny and classification of Neotropical fishes has grown exponentially. In turn, this new knowledge about phylogeny and classification catalyzes studies in other areas of biology, and allows researchers to address urgent concerns about the imminent loss of biodiversity caused by the alteration of natural environments.
Twenty years ago, researchers from the Museu de Ciencias da PUCRS, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, and United States National Museum organized an international symposium on the Phylogeny and Classification of Neotropical Fishes with the support of the Brazilian Society of Ichthyology. This milestone scientific meeting was the first to gather the great majority of Neotropical fish systematists at a paramount event. The proceedings from the event were published in 1997 as a book on the biogeography and evolution of Neotropical freshwater fishes. Since then, the Brazilian Society of Ichthyology (Sociedade Brasileira de Ictiologia) has strengthened the communication among Neotropical ichthyologists from Brazil and many other countries. The biannual meetings (EBI) have grown from small gathering of about two hundred people to large scientific events attracting more than 1,000 participants. Concurrently, SBI created a well-regarded international scientific journal entitled Neotropical Ichthyology.
Since the publication of the landmark volume in 1997, methods of phylogenetic data have advanced radically, mainly by the growth and refinement of new methods of analyzing DNA sequences. Twenty years ago, most studies focused on osteological characters and analyses of DNA sequences were rare. Today we see not only a wide proliferation of molecular methods, but also growth in the use of other kinds of anatomical data such as myology, neuroanatomy and 3D morphometrics, and combined analyses that integrate morphological and molecular phylogenetics to answer key questions about evolution and diversification.
This second International Symposium on Phylogeny and Classification of Neotropical Fishes occurs in the context of this ichthyological renaissance. The event will reassemble the world’s community of researchers working on the evolution of Neotropical fishes twenty years after the first meeting to evaluate and celebrate the advances achieved in the last two decades through the emergence and establishment of new methodologies. Participants will address key questions about the evolution of Neotropical fishes, propose new hypotheses and debate existing ones. A special issue of the society’s journal, Neotropical Ichthyology, will disseminate the most event’s most interesting and groundbreaking. Like watershed 1997 book Phylogeny and Classification of Neotropical Fishes, this special issue of Neotropical Ichthyology will represent a new landmark for studies on Neotropical fishes.
The event will also pay homage to the late American researcher Richard Vari of the Smithsonian Institution, who was one of the most productive and well-loved researchers in the history of Neotropical fish systematics. Aside from his enormous body of published work, Dr. Vari left a great legacy to Neotropical ichthyology by mentoring, guiding and collaborating with generations of students and postdoctoral researchers from many South American countries. Through his kind and humble gifts of time, wisdom and financial support, he inspired and encouraged the many researchers who now follow in his footsteps.