Focus on fish in year of biodiversity

Posted by Josette Dunn on 4th October 2010

A seminar to be held next week at The University of Western Australia will take the audience on a ‘swim-through’ with some of Australia’s most interesting fish including sharks, which were around before dinosaurs.WA Premier’s Research Fellow and Winthrop Professor Shaun Collin, of UWA’s Oceans Institute and the School of Animal Biology, will focus on the vision of some fish which inhabit ecosystems as varied as murky freshwater rivers in northern Australia, brightly lit seas around coral reefs, and the darkness of the deep ocean.


“For every living thing, the ability to detect light is crucial for survival,” Professor Collin said. “Light detection sets animals’ circadian rhythms and helps in finding food and mates, and in avoiding predators.

“My research involves tracing the evolution of light detection and image formation, and exploring the impacts of light on biodiversity, on the sustainability of WA’s native animals, and on animal and human health.”

In the seminar, Professor Collin will discuss the perception of light in hagfishes, lampreys, sharks and teleosts and discuss how different these animals’ visual systems are to humans. This year is the International Year of Biodiversity

Hagfishes, which are almost blind, are long, thin and exude sticky slime. They have no jaws, but use tooth-like rasps to prey on dead and dying fish. The fossil record suggests hagfishes have evolved little over 500 million years. Lampreys are similar to hagfishes but feed by attaching themselves to living fish.

Sharks existed more than 420 million years ago and occupy a vital role in our ecosystem Their survival is threatened and Professor Collin hopes his team’s research into the sensory input to sharks’ brain will help develop ways to repel sharks from fishing gear and being needlessly killed.

Teleosts, or bony ‘modern’ fish with fins, may sometimes live beyond the penetration limits of sunlight. Professor Collin’s research investigates how the eyes of deep-sea predators are adapted for seeing the bioluminescent light flashes produced by prey that live in an otherwise dark, featureless aquatic landscape.