Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 33–75

Alternative life-history styles of cartilaginous fishes in time and space

  • Leonard J. V. Compagno

DOI: 10.1007/BF00751027

Cite this article as:
Compagno, L.J.V. Environ Biol Fish (1990) 28: 33. doi:10.1007/BF00751027


Cartilaginous fishes, the sharks, rays and chimaeras (class Chondrichthyes), are a very old and successful group of jawed fishes that currently contains between 900 and 1100 known living species. Chondrichthyians show a high morphological diversity during most of their evolutionary career from the Paleozoic to the present day. They are relatively large predators which have remained a major, competitive element of marine ecosystems despite the varied rivalry of numerous other marine vertebrate groups over at least 400 million years. Although restricted in their ecological roles by morphology, reproduction and other factors, the living cartilaginous fishes are highly diverse and show numerous alternative life-history styles which are multiple answers to exploiting available niches permitted by chondrichthyian limitations. Chondrichthyians living and fossil can be divided into at least eighteen ecomorphotypes, of which the littoral ecomorphotype is perhaps the most primitive and can serve as an evolutionary origin for numerous specialist ecomorphotypes with benthic, high-speed, superpredatory, deep-slope and oceanic components. Reproductive modes in cartilaginous fishes are of six types, ranging from primitive extended oviparity through retained oviparity and yolk-sac viviparity (previously ovoviviparity) to three derived forms of viviparity. Reproductive modes are not strongly correlated with ecomorphotypes and with the phylogeny of living elasmobranchs. The success and importance of cartilaginous fishes is largely underrated by marine biologists and by the public, and requires new and ‘heretical’ emphasis to overcome the present inadequacies of chondrichthyian research and the problems of overexploitation that cartilaginous fishes face.

Key words

Sharks Rays Chimaeras Chondrichthyes Evolution Success Diversity Ecology Ecomorphotypes Reproductive modes Conservation 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leonard J. V. Compagno
    • 1
  1. 1.Shark Research CenterJ.L.B. Smith Institute of IchthyologyGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.South African MuseumCape TownSouth Africa

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