Discovery of a specialised anatomical structure in some physoclistous carangid fishes which permits rapid ascent without barotrauma

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Physoclistous fish are unable to rapidly ascend through the water column without significant risk of barotrauma via swim bladder hyperextension or rupture. Here, we report on the discovery of a highly specialised anatomical structure which permits some physoclistous fish species, the samson fish Seriola hippos and silver trevally Pseudocaranx georgianus, to vent swim bladder gas during ascent. Dissections of injected casts and X-ray imaging revealed the swim bladder ‘vent’ to consist of a membranous opening in the roof of the swim bladder which led to a flattened tube that bifurcated around the vertebral column and exited via a small, oval-shaped hole in the pharyngo-cleithral membrane underneath each operculum. Identification of these distinctive holes revealed that venting had occurred on ascent in 96 % of in S. hippos captured from depth. Decompression from simulated 30 m water depth in an experimental hyperbaric chamber revealed that venting in P. georgianus commenced when predicted swim bladder volume was approximately double that of its initial volume and ceased when the fish were again near neutrally buoyant. A homologous structure was identified in S. lalandi and S. dumerili. This structure represents an important step in the evolution of the teleost swim bladder which circumvents the normal physoclistous restriction on rapid ascents by eliminating, or minimising, barotrauma. Ecological benefits of this ability include an improved ability to capture prey, escape predators and perform ‘spawning rushes’. The increased resilience to barotrauma provided by the swim bladder ‘vent’ may also reduce the levels of post-release discard mortality for deep-water species which possess the structure.

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We are grateful to C. Boys, J. Davenport and an anonymous reviewer for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. We thank C. Doak for technical assistance with P. georgianus investigations and D. Barker for maintaining experimental fish in captivity. We thank A. Bevan and G. Lilley for their boat time and expertise in finding and catching S. hippos, M. Mackie and P. Lewis for sharing their knowledge and insights into S. hippos spawning aggregations and G. Thompson for assistance with S. hippos histological examinations. This research was funded by the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and Murdoch University. It was carried out under NSW Animal Care and Ethics Permit No. 09/07 and Murdoch University Animal Ethics Approval Permit W107/04.

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Correspondence to Julian M. Hughes.

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Reviewed by J. Davenport and an undisclosed expert.

Responsible Editor: J. D. R. Houghton.

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Video footage of P. georgianus during depressurization from pressure equivalent to 30 m depth (4 atm) taken in an experimental hyperbaric chamber at the rate of ~1 m s−1. Depth-equivalent pressure is given at top left (MP4 11836 kb)

Video footage of P. georgianus during depressurization from pressure equivalent to 30 m depth (4 atm) taken in an experimental hyperbaric chamber at the rate of ~1 m s−1. Depth-equivalent pressure is given at top left (MP4 11836 kb)

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Hughes, J.M., Rowland, A.J., Stewart, J. et al. Discovery of a specialised anatomical structure in some physoclistous carangid fishes which permits rapid ascent without barotrauma. Mar Biol 163, 169 (2016) doi:10.1007/s00227-016-2943-6

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  • Membranous Opening
  • Membranous Tube
  • Rock Lobster
  • Hyperbaric Chamber
  • Rapid Ascent