Morphological variation in head shape of pipefishes and seahorses in relation to snout length and developmental growth

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Abstract

The feeding apparatus of Syngnathidae, with its elongate tubular snout and tiny, toothless jaws, is highly specialized for performing fast and powerful pivot feeding. In addition, the prolonged syngnathid parental care probably enables the juveniles to be provided with a feeding apparatus that resembles the one in adults, both in morphology and function. In this study, a landmark-based geometric morphometric analysis was carried out on the head of syngnathid representatives in order to (1) examine to what degree pipefish shape variation is different from that of seahorses; (2) determine whether the high level of specialization reduces the amount of intraspecific morphological variation found within the family; and (3) elucidate whether or not important shape changes occur in the seahorse head during postrelease ontogeny. We found that (1) there is a significant shape difference between head shape of pipefish and seahorse: the main differences concern snout length and height, position and orientation of the pectoral fin base, and height of the head and opercular bone. We hypothesize that this might be related to different prey capture kinematics (long snout with little head rotation versus short snout with large head rotation) and to different body postures (in line with the head versus vertical with a tilted head) in pipefishes and seahorses; (2) both pipefishes and seahorses showed an inverse relation between relative snout length and intraspecific variation and although pipefishes show a large diversity in relative snout elongation, they are more constrained in terms of head shape; and (3) the head of juvenile Hippocampus reidi specimens still undergoes gradual shape changes after being expelled from the brood pouch. Ontogenetic changes include lowering of the snout and head but also differences in orientation of the preopercular bone and lowering of the snout tip. J. Morphol. 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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