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Concept: Vertebrate


The discovery of fluorescent proteins has revolutionized experimental biology. Whereas the majority of fluorescent proteins have been identified from cnidarians, recently several fluorescent proteins have been isolated across the animal tree of life. Here we show that biofluorescence is not only phylogenetically widespread, but is also phenotypically variable across both cartilaginous and bony fishes, highlighting its evolutionary history and the possibility for discovery of numerous novel fluorescent proteins. Fish biofluorescence is especially common and morphologically variable in cryptically patterned coral-reef lineages. We identified 16 orders, 50 families, 105 genera, and more than 180 species of biofluorescent fishes. We have also reconstructed our current understanding of the phylogenetic distribution of biofluorescence for ray-finned fishes. The presence of yellow long-pass intraocular filters in many biofluorescent fish lineages and the substantive color vision capabilities of coral-reef fishes suggest that they are capable of detecting fluoresced light. We present species-specific emission patterns among closely related species, indicating that biofluorescence potentially functions in intraspecific communication and evidence that fluorescence can be used for camouflage. This research provides insight into the distribution, evolution, and phenotypic variability of biofluorescence in marine lineages and examines the role this variation may play.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Molecular biology, Biology, Species, Fish, Phylogenetic tree, Vertebrate


The ubiquity of anthropogenic debris in hundreds of species of wildlife and the toxicity of chemicals associated with it has begun to raise concerns regarding the presence of anthropogenic debris in seafood. We assessed the presence of anthropogenic debris in fishes and shellfish on sale for human consumption. We sampled from markets in Makassar, Indonesia, and from California, USA. All fish and shellfish were identified to species where possible. Anthropogenic debris was extracted from the digestive tracts of fish and whole shellfish using a 10% KOH solution and quantified under a dissecting microscope. In Indonesia, anthropogenic debris was found in 28% of individual fish and in 55% of all species. Similarly, in the USA, anthropogenic debris was found in 25% of individual fish and in 67% of all species. Anthropogenic debris was also found in 33% of individual shellfish sampled. All of the anthropogenic debris recovered from fish in Indonesia was plastic, whereas anthropogenic debris recovered from fish in the USA was primarily fibers. Variations in debris types likely reflect different sources and waste management strategies between countries. We report some of the first findings of plastic debris in fishes directly sold for human consumption raising concerns regarding human health.

Concepts: Human, Fish, Pacific Ocean, Vertebrate, Seafood, Fishing, Waste, Shellfish


Here, we document in-vivo bite forces recorded from wild piranhas. Integrating this empirical data with allometry, bite simulations, and FEA, we have reconstructed the bite capabilities and potential feeding ecology of the extinct giant Miocene piranha, Megapiranha paranensis. An anterior bite force of 320 N from the black piranha, Serrasalmus rhombeus, is the strongest bite force recorded for any bony fish to date. Results indicate M. paranensis' bite force conservatively ranged from 1240-4749 N and reveal its novel dentition was capable of resisting high bite stresses and crushing vertebrate bone. Comparisons of body size-scaled bite forces to other apex predators reveal S. rhombeus and M. paranensis have among the most powerful bites estimated in carnivorous vertebrates. Our results functionally demonstrate the extraordinary bite of serrasalmid piranhas and provide a mechanistic rationale for their predatory dominance among past and present Amazonian ichthyofaunas.

Concepts: Fish, Predation, Vertebrate, Gnathostomata, Actinopterygii, Piranha, Characidae, Serrasalminae


Parthenogenesis is a natural form of asexual reproduction in which embryos develop in the absence of fertilisation. Most commonly found in plants and invertebrate organisms, an increasing number of vertebrate species have recently been reported employing this reproductive strategy. Here we use DNA genotyping to report the first demonstration of an intra-individual switch from sexual to parthenogenetic reproduction in a shark species, the zebra shark Stegostoma fasciatum. A co-housed, sexually produced daughter zebra shark also commenced parthenogenetic reproduction at the onset of maturity without any prior mating. The demonstration of parthenogenesis in these two conspecific individuals with different sexual histories provides further support that elasmobranch fishes may flexibly adapt their reproductive strategy to environmental circumstances.

Concepts: Reproduction, Organism, Life, Vertebrate, Asexual reproduction, Sexual reproduction, Shark, Parthenogenesis


gen. et sp. nov. is described from the Famennian Worange Point Formation; the holotype is amongst the largest tristichopterids and sarcopterygians documented by semi-articulated remains from the Devonian Period. The new taxon has dentary fangs and premaxillary tusks, features assumed to be derived for large Northern Hemisphere tristichopterids (, , ). It resembles in ornament, but is distinguished by longer proportions of the parietal compared to the post-parietal shield, and numerous differences in shape and proportions of other bones. Several characters (accessory vomers in the palate, submandibulars overlapping ventral jaw margin, scales ornamented with widely-spaced deep grooves) are recorded only in tristichopterids from East Gondwana (Australia-Antarctica). On this evidence gen. nov. is placed in an endemic Gondwanan subfamily Mandageriinae within the Tristichopteridae; it differs from the nominal genotype in its larger size, less pointed skull, shape of the orbits and other skull characters. The hypothesis that tristichopterids evolved in Laurussia and later dispersed into Gondwana, and a derived subgroup of large Late Devonian genera dispersed from Gondwana, is inconsistent with the evidence of the new taxon. Using oldest fossil and most primitive clade criteria the most recent phylogeny resolves South China and Gondwana as areas of origin for all tetrapodomorphs. The immediate outgroup to tristichopterids remains unresolved - either from Greenland as recently proposed, or from Gondwana, earlier suggested to be the sister group to all tristichopterids. Both taxa combine two characters that do not co-occur in other tetrapodomorphs (extratemporal bone in the skull; non-cosmoid round scales with an internal boss). Recently both ‘primitive’ and ‘derived’ tristichopterids have been discovered in the late Middle Devonian of both hemispheres, implying extensive ghost lineages within the group. Resolving their phylogeny and biogeography will depend on a comprehensive new phylogenetic analysis.

Concepts: Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Vertebrate, Sarcopterygii, Tetrapod, Carboniferous, Devonian


The actinopterygians comprise nearly one-half of all extant vertebrate species and are very important for human well-being. However, the phylogenetic relationships among certain groups within the actinopterygians are still uncertain, and debates about these relationships have continued for a long time. Along with the progress achieved in sequencing technologies, phylogenetic analyses based on multi-gene sequences, termed phylogenomic approaches, are becoming increasingly common and often result in well-resolved and highly supported phylogenetic hypotheses. Based on the transcriptome sequences generated in this study and the extensive expression data currently available from public databases, we obtained alignments of 274 orthologue groups for 26 scientifically and commercially important actinopterygians, representing 17 out of 44 orders within the class Actinopterygii. Using these alignments and probabilistic methods, we recovered relationships between basal actinopterygians and teleosts, among teleosts within protacanthopterygians and related lineages, and also within acanthomorphs. These relationships were recovered with high confidence.

Concepts: Species, Fish, Phylogenetics, Vertebrate, Chordate, Actinopterygii, Osteichthyes, Teleostei


BACKGROUND: The number of members of the Dlx gene family increased during the two rounds of whole-genome duplication that occurred in the common ancestor of the vertebrates. Because the Dlx genes are involved in the development of the cranial skeleton, brain, and sensory organs, their expression patterns have been analysed in various organisms in the context of evolutionary developmental biology. Six Dlx genes have been isolated in the lampreys, a group of living jawless vertebrates (cyclostomes), and their expression patterns analysed. However, little is known about the Dlx genes in the hagfish, the other cyclostome group, mainly because the embryological analysis of this animal is difficult. RESULTS: To identify the hagfish Dlx genes and describe their expression patterns, we cloned the cDNA from embryos of the Japanese inshore hagfish Eptatretus burgeri. Our results show that the hagfish has at least six Dlx genes and one pseudogene. In a phylogenetic analysis, the hagfish Dlx genes and those of the lampreys tended to be excluded from the clade of the gnathostome Dlx genes. In several cases, the lamprey Dlx genes clustered with the clade consisting of two hagfish genes, suggesting that independent gene duplications have occurred in the hagfish lineage. Analysis of the expression of these genes showed distinctive overlapping expression patterns in the cranial mesenchymal cells and the inner ear. CONCLUSIONS: Independent duplication, pseudogenization, and loss of the Dlx genes probably occurred in the hagfish lineage after its split from the other vertebrate lineages. This pattern is reminiscent of the non-parsimonious evolution of its morphological traits, including its inner ear and vertebrae, which indicate that this group is an early-branching lineage that diverged before those characters evolved.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Evolution, Biology, Developmental biology, Vertebrate, Hagfish, Agnatha


The proteome of human brain synapses is highly complex and is mutated in over 130 diseases. This complexity arose from two whole-genome duplications early in the vertebrate lineage. Zebrafish are used in modelling human diseases; however, its synapse proteome is uncharacterized, and whether the teleost-specific genome duplication (TSGD) influenced complexity is unknown. We report the characterization of the proteomes and ultrastructure of central synapses in zebrafish and analyse the importance of the TSGD. While the TSGD increases overall synapse proteome complexity, the postsynaptic density (PSD) proteome of zebrafish has lower complexity than mammals. A highly conserved set of ∼1,000 proteins is shared across vertebrates. PSD ultrastructural features are also conserved. Lineage-specific proteome differences indicate that vertebrate species evolved distinct synapse types and functions. The data sets are a resource for a wide range of studies and have important implications for the use of zebrafish in modelling human synaptic diseases.

Concepts: DNA, Neuron, Evolution, Species, Complexity, Gene duplication, Vertebrate, Chemical synapse


Tadpoles of the monotypic Indian dancing frog family Micrixalidae have remained obscure for over 125 years. Here we report the discovery of the elusive tadpoles of Micrixalus herrei from the sand beds of a forested stream in southern Western Ghats, and confirm their identity through DNA barcoding. These actively burrowing tadpoles lead an entirely fossorial life from eggs to late metamorphic stages. We describe their internal and external morphological characters while highlighting the following features: eel-like appearance, extensively muscularized body and tail, reduced tail fins, skin-covered eyes, delayed development of eye pigmentation in early pre-metamorphic stages (Gosner stages 25-29), prominent tubular sinistral spiracle, large transverse processes on vertebrae II and III, ankylosed ribs on transverse processes of vertebra II, notochord terminating before the atlantal cotyle-occipital condyle junction, absence of keratodonts, serrated well-formed jaw sheaths, and extensive calcified endolymphatic sacs reaching sacrum posteriorly. The tadpole gut contains mostly fine sediments and sand. We discuss the eel-like morphology and feeding habits of M. herrei in the context of convergence with other well-known fossorial tadpoles. This discovery builds the knowledge base for further comparative analyses and conservation of Micrixalus, an ancient and endemic lineage of Indian frogs.

Concepts: Eye, Vertebra, Vertebrate, Frog, Tadpole, Western Ghats, Notochord, Labyrinthodontia


Invasive vertebrate predators are directly responsible for the extinction or decline of many vertebrate species, but their indirect impacts often go unmeasured, potentially leading to an underestimation of their full impact. When invasives extirpate functionally important mutualists, dependent species are likely to be affected as well. Here, we show that the invasive brown treesnake, directly responsible for the extirpation of forest birds from the island of Guam, is also indirectly responsible for a severe decline in plant recruitment as a result of disrupting the fruit-frugivore mutualism. To assess the impact of frugivore loss on plants, we compare seed dispersal and recruitment of two fleshy-fruited tree species on Guam and three nearby islands with intact disperser communities. We conservatively estimate that the loss of frugivorous birds caused by the brown treesnake may have caused a 61-92% decline in seedling recruitment. This case study highlights the potential for predator invasions to cause indirect, pervasive and easily overlooked interaction cascades.

Concepts: Plant, Symbiosis, Vertebrate, Plant morphology, Extinction, Invasive species, Mutualism, Seed dispersal