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Researchers traced reef fish ancestry by developing a comprehensive family tree of the major group of modern ocean fish.
The world's reefs are hotbeds of biological diversity, including over 4,500 species of fish. A new study shows that the ancestors of these fish colonized reefs in two distinct waves, before and after the mass extinction event about 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Reef fish represent one of the largest and most diverse assemblages of vertebrates, according to Samantha Price, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis. Price is first author on a paper describing the work, published April 2 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The fossil record of reef fish is patchy, so Price and colleagues traced their ancestry by developing a comprehensive family tree of the major group of modern ocean fish, the acanthomorphs or "spiny-finned fish," and calculating the times when different groups migrated into or out of reef habitats.