aqua journal

Book review – The biology of gobies

cover-BiologyofgobiesTHE BIOLOGY OF GOBIES
Patzner, R. A.,
J. L. Van Tassell, M. Kovačié, and B. G. Kappor, (editors).
Science Publishers, Channel Islands, U.K., Enfield, New Hampshire, USA. 2011. 685 pp.

Gobies are a group of charismatic fishes that live in tropical and temperate freshwater, estuarine, and fully marine habitats to a recorded depth of over 1,100 meters.  They may be brilliantly colored, and a few reach a maximum recorded size of some 60 cm SL, although most are small, inconspicuous, benthic tropical coastal marine or coral reef fishes.  Well over 2,000 or an estimated one in every 10 to 20 species of bony fishes is a goby (suborder Gobioidei or order Gobiiformes, used interchangeably in this book), yet much knowledge about gobies is broadly dispersed and as cryptic as the fishes themselves. The editors make a bold claim for gobies as (p. vi)  “… unparalleled among vertebrates in their ability to diversify and adapt.” They are right. The vertebrate with the shortest lifespan is a goby: the diminutive Eviota sigillata, which lives in tropical inshore and coral reef habitats throughout the Indo-West and Central Pacific, completes its entire life cycle in about two months (Depczynski and Bellwood, 2005). One or another species of the genus Trimmatom is a perpetual entrant in the contest for the title of world’s smallest vertebrate.  The mudskippers (Periophthalmus and relatives) are the most terrestrial of bony fishes; embryos are tended in mudflat burrows that males excavate by sucking up mud and regurgitating it as pellets at the surface. Males ventilate the burrows by filling their buccopharyngeal cavity with air and expelling the air during forays into the burrows (Ishimatsu et al., 1998). All gobies are oviparous; adults may be of fixed sex, change sex (from male to female, or from female to male), or be hermaphrodites (Cole, 1990).  
The Biology of Gobies, remarkably, is the first attempt to consolidate our knowledge of goby biology – gobiology to the cognoscenti –, systematics, ecology, and biogeography. The effort is international and collaborative: 33 authors from 15 countries wrote 25 chapters in four sections on goby systematics (10 chapters), zoogeography (six chapters), general biology (four chapters) and ecology (five chapters). The editors are optimists who claim that the book contains (p. v) “… the background information for others to join in on the study of this diverse group.” Here, they are just partly right. This book has been written by many of the world’s leading goby researchers and it is rich with their original observations and mature insights, yet its production is uneven, the text is repetitive, and reproduction of illustrations ranges from good to poor. Many of the black and white figures are faint or blurry and the color plates, collected together in the back of the book, are mostly fuzzy and their text illegible. The 25-page subject, select author, and taxonomic Index was likely produced with off-the-shelf book indexing software. Index entries such as “Tiny size 362” or “Walking 352” are amusing, but not useful. Despite these drawbacks, The Biology of Gobies is the best and most complete goby compendium today and the only one that we will likely have for some time. This book is marketed and distributed by CRC Press which sells electronic access to chapters on its website:
Gobioid monophyly has been well-supported by both morphology (e.g., Miller 1973, 1992; Springer 1983) and molecules (Thacker and Hardman, 2005) and is not questioned here. It is perhaps the firmest ground on which goby systematics stands. Following a brief Preface, the book opens with two introductory chapters, one on gobioid morphological classification and the other on gobioid molecular systematics. From both the morphological and molecular perspectives, the gobioid sister-group is unknown. The nine gobioid families, following the conventional classification of Nelson (2006), are reviewed in eight chapters, the first of which, Systematics of the Rhyacichthyidae, by Helen K. Larson, sets the style for the family studies that follow: it is a short and informative literature review that includes some personal insights into gobiology and ends with a list of references. Unfortunately, the systematics chapters may contradict each other. For example, Larson classifies two genera, Rhyacichthys and Protogobius, in the family Rhyacichthyidae, and Akihisa Iwata classifies six genera, including Terateleotris, in the family Odontobutidae. In contrast, Christine Thacker uniquely classifies Terateleotris in the Rhyacichthyidae. Ideally, these systematics chapters would have been collected together into one, multi-authored, comprehensive disquisition to include a review of the classification of each family, a consensus classification of gobioids, at least to genus, presented in a table, an illustrated discussion of the characters that diagnose major clades, and the collected references.     
The zoogeography chapters are more descriptive than analytical or comparative, yet present a wealth of data that may be used to interpret the distributional history of gobies worldwide. Not surprisingly, despite a marine larval period of weeks to months for many species, gobies exhibit marked endemism. The 21 species of neon goby, genus Elacatinus, and their color morphs, have (p. 159) “… very restricted, non-overlapping, geographic distributions…” in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific. Many mudskippers (p. 101) “…are endemic to relatively restricted geographic areas.” The majority of marine, euryhaline and amphidromous gobies, 51 of 87 species (p. 221) that live in western, central and southern Africa, are endemics. Their broad distributions, high species diversity, and discrete areas of endemism make gobies ideal for elucidating global biogeographic patterns. This high degree of endemism potentially will translate into highly informative biogeographic patterns when relationships among endemic areas are proposed and tested (Parenti and Ebach, 2009).
The sheer abundance of gobies, in numbers of species and individuals, and their small size means that they play a critical role in the maintenance of healthy ecosystems. The nine chapters in the sections on General Biology and Ecology review an array of topics for which gobies are already well-known, such as the mutualistic association between gobies and alpheid shrimps, the cleaning behavior of Elacatinus species, and the excavation of burrows by mudskippers, and those for which they are less so, such as their life as predator and prey. One chapter by C. Dieter Zander is an eclectic historical review of life history observations that span nearly eight decades.  Here is some data from Zander on the importance of goby fry in fisheries (p. 328):
“Fishery on goby fry is concentrated in several localities of the tropic region, especially in Philippines, Hawaii, Caribbean and Reunion… Mostly post-larvae of the genera [Sicyopterus] and Sicydium are caught during the emigration to the sea from freshwater where the adults spawn… Yields vary between 60,000 t/year in Luzon, 2 t in Hawaii, 0.9 t in [Dominica] (Caribbean) or a [mean of] 40 t in Reunion.”
At nearly 700 pages, the book bursts with such observations, some original, others compiled from the literature, on the biology of gobies. Gobiologists, new and old, will find it useful, even stimulating. It’s a good start.    

COLE, K. S. 1990. Patterns of gonad structure in hermaphroditic gobies (Teleostei: Gobiidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes 28: 125-142.
DEPCZYNSKI, M. & BELLWOOD, D. 2005. Shortest recorded vertebrate lifespan found in a coral reef fish. Current Biology 15 (8): 288-289.
ISHIMATSU, A., HISHIDA, Y., TAKITA, T., KANDA, T., OIKAWA, S., TAKEDA, T. & KHOO, K. H. 1998. Mudskippers store air in their burrows. Nature 391: 237-238.  
MILLER, P .J. 1973. The osteology and adaptive features of Rhyacichthys aspro (Teleostei: Gobioidei) and the higher classification of gobioid fishes. Journal of Zoology, London 171: 397-434.
MILLER, P. J. 1992. The sperm duct gland: a visceral synapomorphy for gobioid fishes. Copeia 1992 (1): 253-256.
NELSON, J. S. 2006. Fishes of the World, Fourth Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.
PARENTI, L. R. & EBACH, M. C. 2009. Comparative Biogeography: Discovering and Classifying Biogeographical Patterns of a Dynamic Earth. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
SPRINGER, V. G. 1983. Tyson belos, new genus and species of western Pacific fish (Gobiidae, Xenisthminae), with discussions of gobioid osteology and classification. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 390: 1-40.
THACKER, C.E. & HARDMAN, M. A. 2005. Molecular phylogenetics of basal gobioid fishes: Rhyacichthyidae, Odontobutidae, Xenisthmidae, Eleotridae (Teleostei: Perciformes: Gobioidei). Molecular Phylogeny and Evolution 37 (3): 858-871.

Lynne R. Parenti
Division of Fishes
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
 PO Box 37012, NHB MRC 159
Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA

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