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NSF-Funded Researcher Plucks Four Unknown Fish Species From Antarctic Waters


An Ohio University researcher who netted four species of fish previously unknown to science during a National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic research cruise says the discoveries confirm his hypothesis that the continent's frigid seas are a world-class evolutionary laboratory.

"Antarctica is under-appreciated as an evolutionary site," argues Joseph Eastman, an anatomist who made his discoveries aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, an icebreaker of the NSF's polar research fleet. "The oceanic waters surrounding the continent are a natural evolutionary laboratory comparable to the Hawaiian Islands or Lake Baikal in Russia."

Eastman said his research indicates the waters appear to have been the site of geologically recent "adaptive radiation" as a single stock of fish -- known as notothenioids -- evolved to fill ecological niches that unrelated species would otherwise occupy. This is the only known example of an adaptive radiation in marine fish, according to Eastman.

Fossil evidence indicates that a variety of different species occupied ecological niches earlier in geological time, when Antarctic waters probably were considerably warmer. But Eastman said that many scientists erroneously assume that because the relatively shallow coastal waters around the southern continent are now so cold, they also must be relatively barren and uninteresting in an evolutionary sense.

The variety of species in the waters of the Antarctic shelf, which typically are no more than 500 meters deep, differs sharply from similar, more temperate waters, such as in the Delaware Bay. In those waters, Eastman noted, there is a great diversity of species on the bottom and at different levels of the water column.

In Antarctica, 95 species of notothenioids, all derived from bottom-dwellers without swim bladders, dominate all habitats. Over evolutionary time, some notothenioids have experienced an increase in body fat and are able t
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Contact: Peter West
pwest@nsf.gov
703-306-1070
National Science Foundation
4-Mar-1999


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