Amphibians Emerged after Ancient Fish moved Out of Water: Study

Amphibians Emerged after Ancient Fish moved Out of Water: Study

Researchers recently conducted a study on an unusual African fish to understand why and how ancient fish ancestors of humans colonized the land.

Fish walked out of water for the first time about 400 million years ago, which led to evolution of modern-day tetrapods, like amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The fossil record clearly shows that there was a lot of diversity and competition between fish when they decided to walk onto land, said lead study author Emily Standen, an evolutionary and comparative bio-mechanist at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

To understand the mystery behind how ancient fish made this shift to terrestrial life, researchers studied the bichir, a modern African fish which has lungs to breathe and stubby fins to move out of water. The reason behind choosing the fish for the study was its similarities with the ones seen in fossils of stem tetrapods, said the researchers.

The study took about one year for the researchers as they first raised groups of juvenile bichir on land for eight months to determine how their anatomy and movement on land differed from bichir raised in the water. The sole intention behind the study was to see how changes are triggered in such fish after living on land, instead of water.

"Anatomically, their pectoral skeleton changed to become more elongate with stronger attachments across their chest, possibly to increase support during walking, and a reduced contact with the skull to potentially allow greater head/neck motion", said researcher Trina Du who also participated in the study.

Standen said that he was left surprised by what they learnt from the study because they never thought that the fish would be able to survive so exceptionally well on land.

Fish that had flexibility to acclimatize with a new habitat removed themselves from a very competitive environment to enjoy life on land. Once they move out onto land, they had range of food choices like plants and insects without the risk of major predators or competition.

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