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Neural network detected in a presumed vestigial trait: ultrastructure of the salmonid adipose fin

J. A. Buckland-Nicks, M. Gillis and T. E. Reimchen
Proceedings: Biological Sciences
Vol. 279, No. 1728 (7 February 2012), pp. 553-563
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41412013
Page Count: 11
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Neural network detected in a presumed vestigial trait: ultrastructure of the salmonid adipose fin
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Abstract

A wide variety of rudimentary and apparently non-functional traits have persisted over extended evolutionary time. Recent evidence has shown that some of these traits may be maintained as a result of developmental constraints or neutral energetic cost, but for others their true function was not recognized. The adipose fin is small, fleshy, non-rayed and located between the dorsal and caudal fins on eight orders of basal teleosts and has traditionally been regarded as vestigial without clear function. We describe here the ultrastructure of the adipose fin and for the first time, to our knowledge, present evidence of extensive nervous tissue, as well as an unusual subdermal complex of interconnected astrocyte-like cells equipped with primary cilia. The fin contains neither adipose tissue nor fin rays. Many fusiform actinotrichia, comprising dense striated macrofibrils, support the free edge and connect with collagen cables that link the two sides. These results are consistent with a recent hypothesis that the adipose fin may act as a precaudal flow sensor, where its removal can be detrimental to swimming efficiency in turbulent water. Our findings provide insight to the broader themes of function versus constraints in evolutionary biology and may have significance for fisheries science, as the adipose fin is routinely removed from millions of salmonids each year.

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