Indexed on: 22 May '13Published on: 22 May '13Published in: PloS one
The classification of gobioid fishes is still under discussion. Several lineages, including the Eleotridae and Butidae, remain difficult to characterize because synapomorphies are rare (Eleotridae) or have not yet been determined (Butidae). Moreover, the fossil record of these groups is scarce.Exceptionally well-preserved fish fossils with otoliths in situ from uppermost Oligocene sediments (≈23-24 Mio. y. ago) in Southern France provide the most in-depth description of a fossil gobioid to date. The species was initially described as Cottus aries Agassiz, then transferred to †Lepidocottus Sauvage, and subsequently assigned to Gobius. Based on a comparative analysis of meristic, osteological and otolith data, this species most likely is a member of the family Butidae. This discovery is important because it represents the first record of a fossil butid fish based on articulated skeletons from Europe.The Butidae and Eleotridae are currently distributed in W-Africa, Madagascar, Asia and Australia, but they do not appear in Europe and also not in the Mediterranean Sea. The new results indicate that several species of the Butidae thrived in Europe during the Oligocene and Early Miocene. Similar to the recent Butidae and Eleotridae, these fishes were adapted to a wide range of salinities and thrived in freshwater, brackish and marginal marine habitats. The fossil Butidae disappeared from Europe and the Mediterranean and Paratethys areas during the Early Miocene, due probably to their lack of competitiveness compared to other Gobioidei that radiated during this period of time. In addition, this study documents the great value of otoliths for gobioid systematics.