Water And Oceanography

Ichthyology



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An ichthyologist is someone who studies fish. The title comes from the Greek word ikhthu, meaning fish. Ichthyologists learn about all the aspects of the fish world, from categorizing different species, observing behavior and environment, and researching how to best conserve fish populations. Many ichthyologists specialize in a particular area of fish study, whether it be natural history, ecology, aquarium maintenance, or conservation. Ichthyology is closely related to marine biology as well as oceanography. Scientists of all three disciplines can work together to learn more about ocean life.



The science of ichthyology dates back to pre-historic times when hunters and gatherers learned to identify the best fish to catch, where to find them, and when they would be there. As recent as a couple thousand years ago, the first descriptions of fish were written. It was with Aristotle that ichthyology became an actual discipline. Around 330 B.C., he classified 117 different species of Mediterranean fish, recording information on their anatomy and behavior. Something that had never been done before. Some of his students continued to study fish, passing their knowledge and interest onto the Romans. It was a Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, who put all the Greek's knowledge into one volume.



Ichthyology, like many sciences and arts, was revived during the Renaissance. There were three notable scientists who began to research fish behavior as opposed to merely listing and categorizing species. They were Hippolyte Salviani, Pierre Belon, and Guillaume Ronelet. Rondelet's work is perhaps the most famous - he wrote Libri de Piscibus Marinis, listing 244 fish species. The fish genus Rondeletia is named after him.



The next century was the century of the naturalist. As Europeans began to colonize the new world, they also grew an interest in the world itself. Also, with the increase in the shipbuilding industry, scientists could travel further, and naturalists began cataloguing thousands of new species. In 1648 George Morcgrave wrote the Naturalis Brasilae, about 100 species of indigenous Brazilian fish. Then in 1686, working together, John Ray and Francis Willughby compiled 420 species, including 178 new discoveries in Historia Piscium.



The real father of ichthyology is Peter Artedi, a Swedish naturalist born in 1705. He was a colleague and close friend of Carolus Linnaeus - the founder of the modern taxonomy system. Both men exchanged copies of their life's work, in the case of the other's death. Unfortunately, Artedi met an untimely end at the age of 30. While he was researching for a wealthy Dutchman, owner of one of the world's richest museum's, he drowned in a canal. Linnaeus published Artedi's works three years later: Bibliotecha Ichthyologica and Philosophia Ichthyologica. As well as these massive compilations, Artedi contributed to the science of fish by developing standards by which to measure fish anatomy, and he added five orders of fish to Linnaeus' taxonomy.



Over a period of 21 years, from 1828 to 1849, the French naturalist Georges Cuvier published a total of 22 volumes. Called the Histoire Naturelle de Poissons, the books summarized all of history's available knowledge in ichthyology, listing a total of 4,514 species of fish. Although this was a great achievement, it pales in comparison to the expanse of the field of ichthyology today. There are 30,700 different species of fish, with 250 new species being discovered every year, including bony fish, sharks, rays, and lobe-finned fish. As the ocean environment is threatened and many populations have become endangered, the research and study of fish will continue to grow in importance in the interest of preserving the oceanic world.

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