Abstract

The migration history of an air-breathing fish group (Channidae; snakehead fishes) is used for reconstructing Neogene Eurasian precipitation and atmospheric circulation patterns. The study shows that snakeheads are sensitive indicators of summer precipitation maxima in subtropical and temperate regions, and are present regularly if the wettest month exceeds 150 mm precipitation and 20 °C mean temperature. The analysis of 515 fossil freshwater fish deposits of the past 50 m.y. from Africa and Eurasia shows two continental-scale migration events from the snakeheads' center of origin in the south Himalayan region, events that can be related to changes in the Northern Hemisphere circulation pattern. The first migration, ca. 17.5 Ma, into western and central Eurasia may have been caused by a northward shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone that brought western Eurasia under the influence of trade winds that produced a zonal and meridional precipitation gradient in Europe. During the second migration, between 8 and 4 Ma, into Africa and East Asia, snakeheads reached their present-day distribution. This migration could have been related to the intensification of the Asian monsoon that brought summer precipitation to their migratory pathways in East Africa–Arabia and East Asia.

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