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Convergent evolution of locomotor morphology but not performance in gymnotiform swimmers

Whitlow, Katrina R., Santini, Francesco, Oufiero, Christopher E.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2019 v.32 no.1 pp. 76-88
Cypriniformes, Gymnotiformes, Osteoglossiformes, Siluriformes, animal morphology, convergent evolution, fish, gait, locomotion, oxygen consumption, phylogeny, swimming
Convergent evolution of a novel locomotor strategy implies that a fitness benefit may be associated with the new gait. Opportunities to study this phenomenon are often constrained by a lack of transitional taxa, but teleost fishes offer examples of extant species across such evolutionary shifts in gait. For instance, one species from Osteoglossiformes and the entire order of Gymnotiformes independently evolved a novel gait, gymnotiform locomotion, where thrust is produced by the undulation of an elongate anal fin. Here, we investigate whether this convergence in gait is also associated with similarities in shape, burst swimming abilities, and/or steady‐swimming energetics. Specifically, we measured body and fin morphology of fish within Gymnotiformes and Osteoglossiformes, along with closely related Siluriformes and Cypriniformes, to examine the link between gymnotiform locomotion and morphology in a phylogenetic context. Second, we tested the burst swimming capabilities and oxygen consumption during endurance swimming of a subset of the same gymnotiform, osteoglossiform, and cypriniform species, including “transitional” Osteoglossiformes that exhibit intermediate gaits, to determine whether the evolution of this specialized gait is associated with a change in either of these performance metrics. Our results suggest that convergence on the gymnotiform gait is associated with morphological convergence, but does not constrain a fish's maximum sprinting speeds or their energetic demands during steady swimming.