Parallel evolutionary trajectories underlie the origin of giant suspension-feeding whales and bony fishes

  • Friedman M
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Giant suspension feeders such as mysticete whales, basking and whale sharks, and the extinct (indicated by '†') †pachycormiform teleosts are conspicuous members of modern and fossil marine vertebrate faunas. Whether convergent anatomical features common to these clades arose along similar evolutionary pathways has remained unclear because of a lack of information surrounding the origins of all groups of large-bodied suspension feeders apart from baleen whales. New investigation reveals that the enigmatic ray-finned fish †Ohmdenia, from the Lower Jurassic (Toarcian, 183.0-175.6 Ma) Posidonia Shale Lagerstätte, represents the immediate sister group of edentulous †pachycormiforms, the longest lived radiation of large vertebrate suspension feeders. †Ohmdenia bisects the long morphological branch leading to suspension-feeding †pachycormiforms, providing information on the sequence of anatomical transformations preceding this major ecological shift that can be compared to changes associated with the origin of modern mysticetes. Similarities include initial modifications to jaw geometry associated with the reduction of dentition, followed by the loss of teeth. The evolution of largest body sizes within both radiations occurs only after the apparent onset of microphagy. Comparing the fit of contrasting evolutionary models to functionally relevant morphological measurements for whales and †pachycormiform fishes reveals strong support for a common adaptive peak shared by suspension-feeding members of both clades.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Cetacea
  • Convergent evolution
  • Filter feeding
  • Mysticeti
  • Planktivory
  • Stem teleost

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  • Matt Friedman

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