Article: Skin patterning and internal anatomy in a fossil moonfish from the Eocene Bolca Lagerstätte illuminate the ecology of ancient reef fish communities
Abstract Colour patterning in extant animals can be used as a reliable indicator of their biology and, in extant fish, can inform on feeding strategy. Fossil fish with preserved colour patterns may thus illuminate the evolution of fish behaviour and community structure, but are understudied. Here we report preserved melanin-based integumentary colour patterning and internal anatomy of the fossil moonfish Mene rhombea (Menidae) from the Bolca Lagerstätte (Eocene (Ypresian), north-east Italy). The melanosome-based longitudinal stripes of M. rhombea differ from the dorsal rows of black spots in its extant relative M. maculata, suggesting that the ecology of moonfish has changed during the Cenozoic. Extant moonfish are coastal schooling fish that feed on benthic invertebrates, but the longitudinal stripes and stomach contents with fish remains in M. rhombea suggest unstructured open marine ecologies and a piscivorous diet. The localized distribution of extant moonfish species in the Indo-Pacific Ocean may reflect, at least in part, tectonically-driven reorganization of global oceanographic patterns during the Cenozoic. It is likely that shifts in habitat and colour patterning genes promoted colour pattern evolution in the menid lineage.