Divergence of brain and retinal anatomy and histology in pelagic antarctic notothenioid fishes of the sister taxa Dissostichus and Pleuragramma

Joseph T. Eastman, Michael J. Lannoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


The neutrally buoyant Antarctic fishes of the sister taxa Dissostichus (D. eleginoides and D. mawsoni) and Pleuragramma antarcticum diverged early in the notothenioid radiation and filled different niches in the pelagic realm of the developing Southern Ocean. To assess the influence of phylogenetic and ecological factors in shaping neural morphology in these taxa, we studied the anatomy and histology of the brains and retinae, and determined the proportional weights of brain regions. With the brain of the non-Antarctic sister taxon Eleginops maclovinus as plesiomorphic, statistically significant departures in the brains of the two Antarctic taxa include reduction of the corpus cerebelli and expansion of the mesencephalon and medulla. Compared to Eleginops, both species also have a relatively smaller telencephalon, although this is significant only in Dissostichus. There are a number of apomorphic features in the brain of Pleuragramma including reduced olfactory nerves and bulbs, an extremely small corpus cerebelli and an expanded mesencephalon. Although there is not a significant difference in the relative weights of the medulla in the two taxa, the prominence of the eminentia granularis and bulging cap-like appearance of the crista cerebellaris are distinctive in Pleuragramma. Brain histology of Dissostichus and Pleuragramma reflects typical perciform patterns and the two species of Dissostichus are histologically identical. Lateral compression in Pleuragramma and notable lobation in Dissostichus also contribute to differences between the taxa. Compression in Pleuragramma is attributable to convergence on an anchovy/herring body shape and to the relatively large brain in this small fish. The less prominent pattern of lobation of the telencephalon, inferior lobes and corpus cerebelli in Pleuragramma probably reflects underlying histology, specifically a reduction in cellularity of the neuropil in the nuclei and lobes. The retinal histology of Dissostichus and Pleuragramma encompasses the extremes seen in Antarctic notothenioids. Dissostichus has a thin scotopic retina with few cones and a high degree of summation. The retina of Pleuragramma is thick and cellular with many small single cones and rods and resembles that of Eleginops. Pedomorphy has not influenced brain morphology in these species but Pleuragramma has superficial neuromasts that are pedomorphic. Although Dissostichus and Pleuragramma are sympatric in the water column, their brains and retinae are highly divergent and reflect the influences of both phylogeny and ecological partitioning of the pelagic realm. Compared to Eleginops, the relatively smaller corpus cerebelli but relatively larger medulla probably indicates, respectively, reduced activity levels of notothenioids in subzero temperatures and expansion of the mechanosensory lateral line system as a supplement to vision under conditions of reduced light. Compared to Dissostichus, Pleuragramma has reduced olfactory bulbs and corpus cerebelli and an expanded mesencephalon. The reduction of the corpus to a small round knob is consistent with physiological parameters and video observations suggesting that, although pelagic, it is relatively inactive. Because mesencephalic weights also include the valvula cerebelli, the relatively large value for Pleuragramma may be attributable to its role in integration and sensorimotor coordination of information from the highly cellular duplex retina and to integration of signals from thewell-developed octavolateralis system. The brain of Dissostichus displays considerable persistent morphology in its overall resemblance to that of Eleginops, especially the large olfactory bulbs and the relatively large caudally projecting corpus, and Dissostichus exhibits olfactory tracking ability and migratory behavior in common with Eleginops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-441
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011


  • Ecological diversification
  • Photoreceptors
  • Relative weights of brain regions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology

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