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Bioessays. 2011 Apr;33(4):260-8. doi: 10.1002/bies.201000124. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

How will fish that evolved at constant sub-zero temperatures cope with global warming? Notothenioids as a case study.

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Department of Public Health, Comparative Pathology and Veterinary Hygiene AGRIPOLIS, Legnaro (PD), Italy.


Current climate change has raised concerns over the fate of the stenothermal Antarctic marine fauna (animals that evolved to live in narrow ranges of cold temperatures). The present paper focuses on Notothenioidei, a taxonomic group that dominates Antarctic fish. Notothenioids evolved in the Southern Ocean over the last 20 million years, providing an example of a marine species flock with unique adaptations to the cold at morphological, physiological and biochemical levels. Their phenotypic modifications are often accompanied by 'irreversible' genomic losses or gene amplifications. On a micro-evolutionary scale, relatively 'shallow' genetic variation is observed, on account of past fluctuations in population size, and a significant genetic structure is evident, suggesting low population connectivity. These features suggest that Antarctic fish might have relatively little potential to adapt to global warming, at least at a genetic level. The extent of their phenotypic plasticity, which is evident to some degree, awaits further research.

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