Before you down your savory New Year’s Eve treat of caviar—luxuriously heaped atop toast points—take a moment to consider the sturgeon whose eggs you consume to welcome in 2024. Sturgeons are creatures of the night, and that may have been the saving grace of its ancient ancestor when disaster struck, 145 millions of years ago.
Before you down your savory New Year’s Eve treat of caviar—luxuriously heaped atop toast points—take a moment to consider the sturgeon whose eggs you consume to welcome in 2024.
Modern-day sturgeons trace their beginnings to the ancient Acipenseriformes. When massive volcanic activity overtook the planet some 145 millions of years ago, prompting a huge extinction event, they survived.
Scientists and the lay public have long pondered why some creatures die and others live to fight another day in the wake of global natural catastrophe.
Now a team of researchers believe a specific behavior may have contributed to species survival. Led by the evolutionary biologist Maxwell Shafer of the University of Toronto, a team of scientists at the University of Basel, designed an innovative computer model that offered an answer. Based on the habits of 4,000 living bony fish as well as 135 cartilaginous fish, the model projected simulations of possible day and nighttime activity among ancestral and modern-day fish. The findings were published last month on bioRxiv.
Sturgeons are creatures of the night, and that may have been the saving grace of its ancient ancestor. (In fact, according to this new computer modeling, the ancestor of all fish was nocturnal.) Some remained that way, such as sturgeons, but others may have toggled back and forth over time to prefer day or nighttime pursuits.
Like the small mammals that managed to survive the asteroid impact some 66 million years ago, being active in the evening hours conferred make-or-break advantages. They avoided predatory diurnal dinosaurs, for one thing. Once the dinosaurs were dispatched, however, the mammals diversified their habits.
Skittering around after the sun had set may have benefitted nocturnal creatures surviving a crisis, because the resulting hot temperatures were better modulated at night, Shafer suggested. Another explanation offered by an evolutionary biologist not involved in the study, Roi Maor, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, suggested that their naturally sharp night vision also enabled them to forage on debris, while the planet was cloaked in darkness.
Some scientists have been reluctant to embrace the notion. But as the planet today continues to warm, setting the stage for any number of adverse events, you may want to take a lesson from your old pet hamster, who powered its exercise wheel ‘round and ‘round, ad infinitum, into the wee hours. Time to trade day for night. (Before the ball drops!)
Source: Science, 24 November 2023, volume 382, issue 6673