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Revision of the depth record of bony fishes with notes on hadal snailfishes (Liparidae, Scorpaeniformes) and cusk eels (Ophidiidae, Ophidiiformes)

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Bony fishes are extremely successful in the marine environment, having evolved into nearly every ocean habitat. However, bony fishes do not seem to inhabit the ocean’s deepest depths, likely due to constraints of pressure adaptation. How deep do bony fishes live? Relatively few studies have examined the deepest living vertebrates, because sampling in hadal environments, depths 6000–11,000 m, is technologically challenging. Here, we review the literature on records of the deepest living bony fishes. Current depth records are held by the hadal snailfish Pseudoliparis swirei (family Liparidae) in the Mariana Trench, collection depth 7966 m, filmed to 8178 m, and the cusk eel Abyssobrotula galatheae (family Ophidiidae) in the Puerto Rico Trench, collection depth 7965 m. Observations of abyssal and hadal fish communities suggest that hadal snailfishes are endemic to trenches but occasionally cross into abyssal areas. On the other hand, cusk eels dwell on the abyssal plains, but can extend their ranges into the trenches. These habitat differences allow both snailfishes and cusk eels to occupy distinct niches in the greatest ocean depths. We then comment on the ecological and physiological significance of these two major hadal families and present recommendations for future research.

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We sincerely thank the many captains, crews, vessels, and institutions that have explored the deep oceans over the past centuries and collected the fishes discussed here, including the teams of the HMS Challenger and the RVs Falkor, Galathea, Thompson, Kaharoa, Kairei, Pillsbury, Shinyo Maru, and Vityaz. Thanks to all scientific parties involved in the collections described here. We also thank the museums, museum staff, and taxonomists who manage, preserve, describe and share these irreplaceable collections and advance scientific knowledge. We extend our gratitude to the funding sources that supported this work, including Schmidt Ocean Institute, the National Science Foundation, the State University of New York at Geneseo (MEG), Newcastle University, and Armatus Oceanic (TDL).


MEG is supported by the State University of New York at Geneseo and TDL is supported by Newcastle University and Armatus Oceanic.

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Correspondence to Mackenzie E. Gerringer.

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MEG declares that she has no conflict of interest. TDL declares that he has no conflict of interest. JGN declares that he has no conflict of interest.

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Gerringer, M.E., Linley, T.D. & Nielsen, J.G. Revision of the depth record of bony fishes with notes on hadal snailfishes (Liparidae, Scorpaeniformes) and cusk eels (Ophidiidae, Ophidiiformes). Mar Biol 168, 167 (2021).

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