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Evolution of High Trophic Diversity Based on Limited Functional Disparity in the Feeding Apparatus of Marine Angelfishes (f. Pomacanthidae)

By Nicolai Konow and David R. Bellwood


The use of biting to obtain food items attached to the substratum is an ecologically widespread and important mode of feeding among aquatic vertebrates, which rarely has been studied. We did the first evolutionary analyses of morphology and motion kinematics of the feeding apparatus in Indo-Pacific members of an iconic family of biters, the marine angelfishes (f. Pomacanthidae). We found clear interspecific differences in gut morphology that clearly reflected a wide range of trophic niches. In contrast, feeding apparatus morphology appeared to be conserved. A few unusual structural innovations enabled angelfishes to protrude their jaws, close them in the protruded state, and tear food items from the substratum at a high velocity. Only one clade, the speciose pygmy angelfishes, showed functional departure from the generalized and clade-defining grab-and-tearing feeding pattern. By comparing the feeding kinematics of angelfishes with wrasses and parrotfishes (f. Labridae) we showed that grab-and-tearing is based on low kinematics disparity. Regardless of its restricted disparity, the grab-and-tearing feeding apparatus has enabled angelfishes to negotiate ecological thresholds: Given their widely different body sizes, angelfishes can access many structurally complex benthic surfaces that other biters likely are unable to exploit. From these surfaces, angelfishes can dislodge sturdy food items from their tough attachments. Angelfishes thus provide an intriguing example of a successful group that appears to have evolved considerable trophic diversity based on an unusual yet conserved feeding apparatus configuration that is characterized by limited functional disparity

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: Public Library of Science
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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