Tracking shape changes in amazon fish after major river is dammed

September 24, 2020

A team of biologists led by Craig Albertson and Ph.D. student Chaise Gilbert at the University of Massachusetts Amherst report this week on their comparison between museum collections of cichlid fishes collected before a dam was closed in 1984 on the Tocantins River in the Amazon and contemporary specimens taken from the Tucuruí Reservoir by fishermen 34 years later.

Working with others in Brazil, Albertson's team tested the idea that these fish could be expected to show changes in body shape as a consequence to shifts in habitat and foraging behavior after the dam rapidly changed environmental conditions from a clear, flowing river to a deep, murky reservoir.

"The once-historic rapids and streams that characterized the system have disappeared from the surrounding area, which in turn has affected the abundance and variety of food sources available to native fishes," they write in Evolutionary Application this week.

Cichlid fishes are known in the scientific world for their ability to alter, in as little as a single season, aspects of body shape to match feeding conditions and other changes in the environment, Albertson says. The skeleton is especially sensitive to such environmental inputs, and studying cichlid fishes offers insights into how organisms, in general, may adapt to major human-induced environmental change.

Using geometric morphometrics, the researchers evaluated changes in six native species - from large fish-eating species to small opportunistic omnivores -across five genera representing distinct local varieties whose body shapes reflect their ecological roles.

To accomplish this, the researchers used many specimens from fish inventories collected before the dam closure in 1980-1982 now housed in the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia fish collection, plus even earlier river survey specimens housed now at the Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo.

Albertson explains, "Our overarching hypothesis is that the damming of the Tocantins and subsequent formation of the Tucuruí reservoir has induced shifts in habitat and foraging behavior and that the anatomy of resident cichlid populations has change in ways that allow them to adapt to this novel environmental conditions. This study represents a first step toward assessing this hypothesis."

Gilbert adds, "Was anything surprising? Yes! While we expected to see changes in generalist species - those that are already predisposed toward living in a variety of habitats - we were surprised to see shape changes in the specialists as well. Evolving to specialize on a particular prey-type or habitat, can provide a competitive advantage in the near term, but it can also be an evolutionary dead end in the face of a major environmental changes."

Not only are these specialist species still found in the area, but they seem to be just as capable of changing body shape as the generalists, the authors report.

Albertson reports further thatchanges across all species "tended to be associated with functionally relevant aspects of anatomy, including head, fin and body shape." They found that the regions of the body that changed over time are exactly those most likely to allow them to survive in their new environment, he adds.
Albertson and Gilbert worked with colleagues at Brazil's Museu Paraense EmílioGoeldi, Belém, and theInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia in Manaus. Funding came from NSF support for the Albertson lab and from the Natural History Collections at UMass Amherst.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Related Fish Articles from Brightsurf:

Fish banks
Society will require more food in the coming years to feed a growing population, and seafood will likely make up a significant portion of it.

More than 'just a fish' story
For recreational fishing enthusiasts, the thrill of snagging their next catch comes with discovering what's hooked on the end of the line.

Fish evolution in action: Land fish forced to adapt after leap out of water
Many blennies - a remarkable family of fishes - evolved from an aquatic 'jack of all trades' to a 'master of one' upon the invasion of land, a new study led by UNSW scientists has shown.

How fish got onto land, and stayed there
Research on blennies, a family of fish that have repeatedly left the sea for land, suggests that being a 'jack of all trades' allows species to make the dramatic transition onto land but adapting into a 'master of one' allows them to stay there.

Fish feed foresight
As the world increasingly turns to aqua farming to feed its growing population, there's no better time than now to design an aquaculture system that is sustainable and efficient.

Robo-turtles in fish farms reduce fish stress
Robotic turtles used for salmon farm surveillance could help prevent fish escapes.

Heatwaves risky for fish
A world-first study using sophisticated genetic analysis techniques have found that some fish are better than others at coping with heatwaves.

A new use for museum fish specimens
This paper suggests using museum specimens to estimate the length-weight relationships of fish that are hard to find alive in their natural environment.

Reef fish caring for their young are taken advantage of by other fish
Among birds, the practice of laying eggs in other birds' nests is surprisingly common.

Anemones are friends to fish
Any port in a storm, any anemone for a small fish trying to avoid being a predator's dinner.

Read More: Fish News and Fish Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to