Publications by authors named "Grace K Forker"

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Bendy to the bone: Links between vertebral morphology and waterfall climbing in amphidromous gobioid fishes.

J Anat 2021 Apr 29. Epub 2021 Apr 29.

Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, SC, USA.

Locomotor force production imposes strong demands on organismal form. Thus, the evolution of novel locomotor modes is often associated with morphological adaptations that help to meet those demands. In the goby lineage of fishes, most species are marine and use their fused pelvic fins to facilitate station holding in wave-swept environments. However, several groups of gobies have evolved an amphidromous lifecycle, in which larvae develop in the ocean but juveniles migrate to freshwater for their adult phase. In many of these species, the pelvic fins have been co-opted to aid in climbing waterfalls during upstream migrations to adult habitats. During horizontal swimming, forces are produced by axial musculature pulling on the vertebral column. However, during vertical climbing, gravity also exerts forces along the length of the vertebral column. In this study, we searched for novel aspects of vertebral column form that might be associated with the distinctive locomotor strategies of climbing gobies. We predicted that stiffness would vary along the length of the vertebral column due to competing demands for stability of the suction disk anteriorly and flexibility for axial thrust production posteriorly. We also predicted that derived, climbing goby species would require stiffer backbones to aid in vertical thrust production compared to non-climbing species. To test these predictions, we used microcomputed tomography scans to compare vertebral anatomy (centrum length, centrum width, and intervertebral space) along the vertebral column for five gobioid species that differ in climbing ability. Our results support our second prediction, that gobies are more flexible in the posterior portion of the body. However, the main variation in vertebral column form associated with climbing ability was the presence of larger intervertebral spaces in Sicyopterus stimpsoni, a species that uses a distinctive inching behavior to climb. These results build on past kinematic studies of goby climbing performance and lend insights into how the underlying vertebral structure of these fishes may enable their novel locomotion.
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April 2021