Waterfall-climbing fish performs evolutionary feat

Small Hawaiian goby fish species could provide big clues about adaptation and evolution

The species of goby fish, Sicyopterus stimpsoni, also known as the “inching climber,” thrives in the waters off Hawaii, and the amazing physical feat it must perform to survive is no fish tale! To reach the safe haven of its freshwater spawning area, this goby must scale a waterfall, or at least the rock behind it, using suction cups on its body.

Typically no bigger than a few inches, it makes its way up the rock, hundreds of feet high. Comparatively speaking, a human being would have to climb Mount Everest three times in order to compete with the inching climber, according to St. Cloud State University biologist Heiko Schoenfuss.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), he and other scientists at St. Cloud State and Clemson universities study these extraordinary fish to better understand how they’ve adapted and evolved in order to achieve such vertical feats. The challenge in this case is climbing waterfalls, but Schoenfuss says their findings can be extrapolated to other species, and whether it’s human-induced selective pressure, pollution or warming waters, scientists can learn about how adaptation occurs over long and short periods of time.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #0817794, Collaborative research: Plasticity, selection and divergence in stream fishes of the Hawaiian Islands.

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1 thought on “Waterfall-climbing fish performs evolutionary feat”

  1. Wow! Yet another outstanding example of how nature has once again overcome seeming impossible obstacles in the pursuit of life.

    I say seeming impossible because for a human to climb Mt Everest three times is exactly that. Think of the amount of equipment, training and funding that would be required to achieve just one trip up Mt Everest. Yet here we have a fish that can make this epic journey all at its own; body temperature, pressure and natural abilities – requiring nothing more. This is an amazing example of Sympatric speciation, where other gobies are able to get to the ‘haven’ that is the fresh water. The inching climber is able to reach this haven and its species has benefitted from this ability. In very few places in nature do you see a suction cup forming part of the anatomy.

    This is truly an astounding feat on nature’s behalf!

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