New research led by Cornell University scientists shows that sound production appeared in the ray-finned fishes (clade Actinopterygii) circa 155 million years ago, as it did in some tetrapods.
“We’ve known for a long time that some fish make sounds,” said Dr. Aaron Rice, a researcher with the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“But fish sounds were always perceived as rare oddities. We wanted to know if these were one-offs or if there was a broader pattern for acoustic communication in fishes.”
The authors looked at Actinopterygii, a clade containing more than 34,000 living species (99% of the world’s known species of fishes).
They found 175 families that contain two-thirds of fish species that do, or are likely to, communicate with sound.
By examining the fish family tree, they found that sound was so important, it evolved at least 33 separate times over millions of years.
“Thanks to decades of basic research on the evolutionary relationships of fishes, we can now explore many questions about how different functions and behaviors evolved in the approximately 35,000 known species of fishes,” said Cornell University’s Professor William Bemis.
“We’re getting away from a strictly human-centric way of thinking. What we learn could give us some insight on the drivers of sound communication and how it continues to evolve.”
The team used existing recordings and papers describing fish sounds; the known anatomy of a fish; and references in 19th century literature before underwater microphones were invented.
“Sound communication is often overlooked within fishes, yet they make up more than half of all living vertebrate species,” said Cornell University’s Professor Andrew Bass.
“They’ve probably been overlooked because fishes are not easily heard or seen, and the science of underwater acoustic communication has primarily focused on whales and dolphins. But fishes have voices, too!”
The team’s paper was published in the journal Ichthyology & Herpetology.
Aaron N. Rice et al. 2022. Evolutionary Patterns in Sound Production across Fishes. Ichthyology & Herpetology 110 (1): 1-12; doi: 10.1643/i2020172
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