Evolution of motor patterns: aquatic feeding in salamanders and ray-finned fishes

Brain Behav Evol. 1989;34(6):329-41. doi: 10.1159/000116519.


Patterns of muscle activity (motor patterns) have generally been found to be strongly conserved during the evolution of aquatic feeding behavior within closely related groups of fishes and salamanders. We conducted a test of the generality of motor pattern conservation with a much broader phylogenetic scope than has been done previously. Activity patterns of three cranial muscles were quantified from electromyographic (EMG) recordings made during suction feeding in a salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum) and 4 widely divergent species of ray-finned fishes (Amia calva, Notopterus chitala, Micropterus salmoides and Lepomis macrochirus). General features of the motor pattern were the same in all species, but multivariate and univariate analyses of variance revealed highly significant differences among the 5 species in the average muscle activity pattern, indicating that the motor pattern has not been precisely conserved among these 5 taxa. Five of eight EMG variables that describe the intensity and timing of muscle activity differed among species. Only the intensity of activity of the adductor mandibulae appears to be a strongly conserved feature of the suction feeding motor pattern in anamniotes. A discriminant function analysis of the 8 EMG variables successfully classified about two thirds of the feeding incidents as belonging to the correct species. In contrast to the results of previous studies of closely related taxa, we found that numerous quantitative differences exist among species, indicating that functionally significant details of suction feeding motor patterns have changed during evolution, whereas several general features of the pattern have been conserved.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ambystoma / physiology*
  • Ambystoma mexicanum / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Electromyography
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Masticatory Muscles / innervation*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Species Specificity*