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Notothenioidei is one of 19 suborders from the order Perciformes and that primarily includes Antarctic fish and Subantarctic fish, but also a few species ranging north to southern Australia and southern South America.[1][2] These species, which are referred to collectively as the notothenioids, account for approximately 90% of the fish fauna biomass in the continental shelf waters surrounding Antarctica.[3]

Six Notothenioidei, illustrations based on "Antarctic Fish and Fisheries" (K.-H. Kock, 1992)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Perciformes
Suborder: Notothenioidei

See text for genera.

Evolution and geographic distributionEdit

The Southern Ocean has supported fish habitats for 400 million years; however, modern notothenioids likely appeared sometime after the Eocene epoch.[2] This period marked the cooling of the Southern Ocean, resulting in the stable, ice-cold conditions that have persisted to present day, excepting abrupt, rapid warming in the region in recent years.[2][4] Another key factor in the evolution of notothenioids is the preponderance of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), a large, slow-moving current that extends to the seafloor and precludes most migration to and from the Antarctic region.[2]

These unique environmental conditions likely promoted widespread radiation within the suborder, leading to the rapid development of new species.[5] Comparison studies between non-Antarctic and Antarctic notothenioids have revealed different ecological processes and genetic differences between the two groups of fish, such as the loss of hemoglobin (in the family Channichthyidae) and changes in buoyancy.[2]

The notothenioids are distributed mainly throughout the Southern Ocean around the coasts of New Zealand, southern South America, and Antarctica.[6] An estimated 79% of notothenioids reside within the Antarctic region.[2] The notothenioids primarily inhabit seawater temperatures between −2 and 4 °C (28 and 39 °F); however, some of the non-Antarctic species inhabit waters that may be as warm as 10 °C (50 °F) around New Zealand and South America.[7] Seawater temperatures below the freezing point of freshwater (0 °C or 32 °F) are possible due to the greater salinity in the Southern Ocean waters.[8] Notothenioids have an estimated depth range of about 0–1,500 m (0–4,921 ft).[2]


Notothenioids display a morphology that is largely typical of other coastal perciform fishes. They are not distinguished by a single physical trait, but rather a distinctive set of morphological traits.[2] These include the presence of three flat pectoral fin radials, nostrils located laterally on each side of the head, the lack of a swim bladder, and the presence of multiple lateral lines.[2]

Because notothenioids lack a swim bladder, the majority of species are benthic or demersal in nature.[2] However, a depth-related diversification has given rise to some species attaining increased buoyancy, using lipid deposits in tissues and reduced ossification of bony structures.[2] This reduced ossification of the skeleton (observed in some notothenioids) changes the weight and creates neutral buoyancy in the water, where the fish neither sinks nor floats, and can thus adjust its depth with ease.[2]


Notothenioids have evolved a variety of physiological and biochemical adaptations that either permit survival in, or are possible only because of, the generally cold, stable seawater temperatures of the Southern Ocean. These include highly unsaturated membrane lipids[9] and metabolic compensation in enzymatic activity.[10]

Many notothenioid fishes are able to survive in the freezing, ice-laden waters of the Southern Ocean because of the presence of an antifreeze glycoprotein in blood and body fluids.[11] Although many of the Antarctic species have antifreeze proteins in their body fluids, not all of them do. Some non-Antarctic species either produce no or very little antifreeze, and antifreeze concentrations in some species are very low in young, larval fish.[2]

While the majority of animal species have up to 45% of hemoglobin (or other oxygen-binding and oxygen-transporting pigments) in their blood, the notothenioids of the family Channichthyidae do not express any globin proteins in their blood.[12] As a result, the oxygen-carrying capacity of their blood is reduced to less than 10% that of other fishes.[12] This trait likely arose due to the high oxygen solubility of the Southern Ocean waters. At cold temperatures, the oxygen solubility of water is enhanced.[13] The loss of hemoglobin is compensated in these species by the presence of a large, slow-beating heart and enlarged blood vessels that transport a large volume of blood under low pressure to enhance cardiac output.[12][14]


This classification follows Eastman and Eakin, 2000[1] and includes references to additional classified species.[15][16] Except where noted, species are restricted to the vicinity of Antarctica.


  1. ^ a b J. T. Eastman & R. R. Eakin (2000). "An updated species list for notothenioid fish (Percifomes; Notothenioidei), with comments on Antarctic species" (PDF). Arch. Fish. Mar. Res. 48 (1): 11–20.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Eastman, Joseph (1993). Antarctic Fish Biology: Evolution in a Unique Environment. San Diego, California: Academic Press, Inc.
  3. ^ Gon, O and Heemstra, PC (1992). "Fishes of the Southern Ocean". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 67: 220–221.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Gille, Sarah (15 February 2002). "Warming of the Southern Ocean Since the 1950s" (PDF). Science Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  5. ^ Clarke, A and Johnston, IA (1996). "Evolution and adaptive radiation of Antarctic fishes" (PDF). TREE. 11: 212–218.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Eastman, J and Grande, L (1989). "Evolution of the Antarctic fish fauna with emphasis on the Recent notothenioids". Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 47 (1): 241–252. Bibcode:1989GSLSP..47..241E. CiteSeerX doi:10.1144/GSL.SP.1989.047.01.18.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "Surface Temperature - NOAA's Science On a Sphere". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2018.
  8. ^ Adkins, J; et al. (29 November 2002). "The Salinity, Temperature, and δ18O of the Glacial Deep Ocean" (PDF). Science Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  9. ^ Logue, JA; et al. (2000). "Lipid compositional correlates of temperature-adaptive interspecific differences in membrane physical structure". Journal of Experimental Biology. 203: 2105–2115.
  10. ^ Kawall, HG; et al. (2002). "Metabolic cold adaptation in Antarctic fishes: Evidence from enzymatic activities of the brain". Marine Biology. 140 (2): 279–286. doi:10.1007/s002270100695.
  11. ^ Chen, L; et al. (1997). "Evolution of antifreeze glycoprotein gene from a trypsinogen gene in Antarctic notothenioid fish". PNAS. 94 (8): 3811–3816. Bibcode:1997PNAS...94.3811C. doi:10.1073/pnas.94.8.3811. PMC 20523.
  12. ^ a b c Sidell, B and O'Brien, KM (2006). "When bad things happen to good fish: the loss of hemoglobin and myoglobin expression in Antarctic icefishes" (PDF). The Journal of Experimental Biology. 209 (Pt 10): 1791–1802. doi:10.1242/jeb.02091. PMID 16651546.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ "Dissolved Oxygen". University of Rhode Island Office of Marine Programs. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  14. ^ Joyce, W; et al. (2019). "Adrenergic and Adenosinergic Regulation of the Cardiovascular System in an Antarctic Icefish: Insight into Central and Peripheral Determinants of Cardiac Output" (PDF). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology. 230: 28–38. doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2018.12.012. PMID 30594528.
  15. ^ Last, P.R., A.V. Balushkin and J.B. Hutchins (2002): Halaphritis platycephala (Notothenioidei: Bovichtidae): a new genus and species of temperate icefish from southeastern Australia. Copeia 2002(2):433-440.
  16. ^ Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2013). Species of Channichthys in FishBase. February 2013 version.

Further readingEdit

  • Macdonald, J. A. (2004). "Notothenioidei (Southern Cod-Icefishes)". In M. Hutchins, R. W. Garrison, V. Geist, P. V. Loiselle, N. Schlager, M. C. McDade, ...W. E. Duellman (Eds.), Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia (2nd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 321–329). Detroit: Gale.