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Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2014 Apr;297(4):701-15. doi: 10.1002/ar.22850. Epub 2014 Jan 17.

Comparison of the structure and composition of the branchial filters in suspension feeding elasmobranchs.

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  • 1Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington, Friday Harbor, Washington.


The four, evolutionarily independent, lineages of suspension feeding elasmobranchs have two types of branchial filters. The first is a robust, flattened filter pad akin to a colander (e.g., whale sharks, mantas and devil rays) while the second more closely resembles the comb-like gill raker structure found in bony fishes (e.g., basking and megamouth sharks). The structure and the presence of mucus on the filter elements will determine the mechanical function of the filter and subsequent particle transport. Using histology and scanning electron microscopy, we investigated the anatomy of the branchial filters in 12 of the 14 species of Chondrichthyian filter-feeding fishes. We hypothesized that mucus producing cells would be abundant along the filter epithelium and perform as a sticky mechanism to retain and transport particles; however, we found that only three species had mucus producing goblet cells. Two of these (Mobula kuhlii and Mobula tarapacana) also had branchial cilia, indicating sticky retention and transport. The remaining filter-feeding elasmobranchs did not have a sticky surface along the filter for particles to collect and instead must employ alternative mechanisms of filtration (e.g., direct sieving, inertial impaction or cross-flow). With the exception of basking sharks, the branchial filter is composed of a hyaline cartilage skeleton surrounded by a layer of highly organized connective tissue that may function as a support. Megamouth sharks and most of the mobulid rays have denticles along the surface of the filter, presumably to protect against damage from large particle impactions. Basking sharks have branchial filters that lack a cartilaginous core; instead they are composed entirely of smooth keratin.

Copyright © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Mobula; branchial arch; elasmobranch; filter-feeding; gill rakers; histology

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