Breathing air in air: in what ways might extant amphibious fish biology relate to prevailing concepts about early tetrapods, the evolution of vertebrate air breathing, and the vertebrate land transition?

Physiological and Biochemical Zoology : PBZ
Jeffrey B Graham, Heather J Lee


The air-breathing fishes have heuristic importance as possible models for the Paleozoic evolution of vertebrate air breathing and the transition to land. A recent hypothesis about this transition suggests that the diverse assemblage of marine amphibious fishes occurring primarily in tropical, high intertidal zone habitats are analogs of early tetrapods and that the intertidal zone, not tropical freshwater lowlands, was the springboard habitat for the Devonian land transition by vertebrates. Here we argue that selection pressures imposed by life in the intertidal zone are insufficient to have resulted in the requisite aerial respiratory capacity or the degree of separation from water required for the vertebrate land transition. The extant marine amphibious fishes, which occur mainly on rocky shores or mudflats, have reached the limit of their niche expansion onto land and remain tied to water by respiratory structures that are less efficient in air and more vulnerable to desiccation than lungs. We further argue that evolutionary contingencies actuated by the Devonian origin of the tetrapods marked a critical point of divergence for a way of life in which selection pressures would operate on the physiology, morphology, and natura...Continue Reading


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