Interactions between fishes and the benthos have shaped the development of marine ecosystems since at least the early Mesozoic. Here, using the morphology of fish teeth as an indicator of feeding abilities, we quantify changes over the last 240 million years of reef fish evolution. Fossil and extant coral reef fish assemblages reveal exceptional stasis in tooth design over time, with one notable exception, a distinct long-toothed form. Arising only in the last 40 million years, these long-toothed fishes have bypassed the invertebrate link in the food chain, feeding directly on benthic particulate material. With the appearance of elongated teeth, these specialized detritivores have moved from eating invertebrates to eating the food of invertebrates. Over evolutionary time, fishes have slid back down the food chain.
Mouthpart and alimentary canal development was examined in Lysmata amboinensis larvae using scanning electron microscopy and histology. The gross morphological features of external mouthparts and internal digestive tract structures of larvae at different developmental stages indicate that ingestive and digestive capabilities are well developed from early on. With increasing age of the larvae the mouthpart appendages increased in size, the hepatopancreas in tubular density and the midgut in length. The density of setae and robustness of teeth and spines of individual structures increased. The most pronounced changes from early to late stage larvae involved formation of pores on the paragnaths and labrum, transformation of the mandibular spine-like teeth to molar cusps, development of the filter press in the proventriculus and of infoldings in the previously straight hindgut. The results suggest that early stage L. amboinensis larvae may benefit from soft, perhaps gelatinous prey, whereas later stages are better equipped to handle larger, muscular or more fibrous foods.
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