Adaptations and lifestyle in polar marine environments: a biological challenge for the study of fish evolution

  • Cinzia Verde
  • Ennio Cocca
  • Donatella de Pascale
  • Elio Parisi
  • Guido di Frisco


The climatic features of Antarctic waters are more extreme and constant than in the Arctic. The Antarctic has been isolated and cold longer than the Arctic. The polar ichthyofaunas differ in age, endemism, taxonomy, zoogeographic distinctiveness and physiological tolerance to environmental parameters. The Arctic is the connection between the Antarctic and the temperate-tropical systems. Paradigmatic comparisons of the pathways of adaptive evolution of fish from both poles address the oxygen-transport system and the antifreezes of northern and southern species, (i) Haemoglobin evolution has included adaptations at the biochemical, physiological and molecular levels. Within the study of the molecular bases offish cold adaptation, and taking advantage of the information on haemoglobin amino acid sequence, we analysed the evolutionary history of the ? and ? globins of Antarctic, Arctic and temperate haemoglobins as a basis for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships. In the trees, the constant physico-chemical conditions of the Antarctic waters are matched by clear grouping of globin sequences, whereas the variability typical of the Arctic ecosystem corresponds to high sequence variation, reflected by scattered intermediate positions between the Antarctic and non-Antarctic clades. (ii) Antifreeze (glyco)proteins and peptides allow polar fish to survive at sub-zero temperatures. In Antarctic Notothenioidei the antifreeze gene evolved from a trypsinogen-like serine protease gene. In the Arctic polar cod the genome contains genes which encode nearly identical proteins, but have evolved from a different genomic locus–a case of convergent evolution.


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How to Cite
Verde, C., Cocca, E., de Pascale, D., Parisi, E., & di Frisco, G. (2004). Adaptations and lifestyle in polar marine environments: a biological challenge for the study of fish evolution. Polar Research, 23(1), 3-10.
Thematic cluster. Selected papers from the session Effect of Climate Variability on the Arctic Seas Ecosystems