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February 3, 2014

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.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Marsha Walton, Science Nation Producer


Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.