The Rise of Jaw Protrusion in Spiny-Rayed Fishes Closes the Gap on Elusive Prey

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Abstract

Jaw protrusion is one of the most important innovations in vertebrate feeding over the last 400 million years [1, 2]. Protrusion enables a fish to rapidly decrease the distance between itself and its prey [2, 3]. We assessed the evolution and functional implications of jaw protrusion in teleost fish assemblages from shallow coastal seas since the Cretaceous. By examining extant teleost fishes, we identified a robust morphological predictor of jaw protrusion that enabled us to predict the extent of jaw protrusion in fossil fishes. Our analyses revealed increases in both average and maximum jaw protrusion over the last 100 million years, with a progressive increase in the potential impact of fish predation on elusive prey. Over this period, the increase in jaw protrusion was initially driven by a taxonomic restructuring of fish assemblages, with an increase in the proportion of spiny-rayed fishes (Acanthomorpha), followed by an increase in the extent of protrusion within this clade. By increasing the ability of fishes to catch elusive prey [2, 4], jaw protrusion is likely to have fundamentally changed the nature of predator-prey interactions and may have contributed to the success of the spiny-rayed fishes, the dominant fish clade in modern oceans [5].

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Bellwood, D. R., Goatley, C. H. R., Bellwood, O., Delbarre, D. J., & Friedman, M. (2015). The Rise of Jaw Protrusion in Spiny-Rayed Fishes Closes the Gap on Elusive Prey. Current Biology, 25(20), 2696–2700. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.058

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