Placoid scales in bioluminescent sharks

Published on
15 September 2022

Placoid scales in bioluminescent sharks: Scaling their evolution using morphology and elemental composition

Alexia Lourtie, Laurent Duchatelet, Nicolas Straube, Nathan Puozzo, Mark A. Grace, Gavin J. P. Naylor, Jérôme Delroisse


Elasmobranchs are characterised by the presence of placoid scales on their skin. These scales, structurally homologous to gnathostome teeth, are thought to have various ecological functions related to drag reduction, predator defense or abrasion reduction. Some scales, particularly those present in the ventral area, are also thought to be functionally involved in the transmission of bioluminescent light in deep-sea environments. In the deep parts of the oceans, elasmobranchs are mainly represented by squaliform sharks. This study compares ventral placoid scale morphology and elemental composition of more than thirty deep-sea squaliform species. Scanning Electron Microscopy and Energy Dispersive X-ray spectrometry, associated with morphometric and elemental composition measurements were used to characterise differences among species. A maximum likelihood molecular phylogeny was computed for 43 shark species incuding all known families of Squaliformes. Character mapping was based on this phylogeny to estimate ancestral character states among the squaliform lineages. Our results highlight a conserved and stereotypical elemental composition of the external layer among the examined species. Phosphorus-calcium proportion ratios (Ca/P) slightly vary from 1.8-1.9, and fluorine is typically found in the placoid scale. By contrast, there is striking variation in shape in ventral placoid scales among the investigated families. Character-mapping reconstructions indicated that the shield-shaped placoid scale morphotype is likely to be ancestral among squaliform taxa. The skin surface occupied by scales appears to be reduced in luminous clades which reflects a relationship between scale coverage and the ability to emit light. In luminous species, the placoid scale morphotypes are restricted to pavement, bristle- and spine-shaped except for the only luminescent somniosid, Zameus squamulosus, and the dalatiid Mollisquama mississippiensis. These results, deriving from an unprecedented sampling, show extensive morphological diversity in placoid scale shape but little variation in elemental composition among Squaliformes.

Front. Mar. Sci., Sec. Marine Biology, DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2022.908237


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