The ventilatory patterns of air-breathing fish are commonly described as 'arrhythmic' or 'irregular' because the variable periods of breath-holding are punctuated by seemingly unpredictable air-breathing events (see Shelton et al. 1986). This apparent arrhythmicity contrasts with the perceived periodism or regularity in the gill ventilation patterns of some fish and with lung ventilation in birds and mammals. In this sense, periodism refers to behaviour that occurs with a definite, recurring interval (Bendat and Piersol, 1986). The characterisation of aerial ventilation patterns in fish as 'aperiodic' has been generally accepted on the basis of qualitative examination and it remains to be validated with rigorous testing. The bowfin, Amia calva (L.), is a primitive air-breathing fish that makes intermittent excursions to the air­water interface to gulp air, which is transferred to its well-vascularized gas bladder. Its phylogenetic position as the only extant member of the sister lineage of modern teleosts affords a unique opportunity to examine the evolution of aerial ventilation and provides a model for the examination of ventilatory patterns in primitive fishes. To establish whether Amia calva exhibit a particular pattern of air-breathing, we examined time series records of aerial ventilations from undisturbed fish over long periods (8 h). These records were the same as those used to calculate average ventilation intervals under a variety of experimental conditions (Hedrick and Jones, 1993). Their study also reported the occurrence of two distinct breath types. Type I breaths were characterised by an exhalation followed by an inhalation, whereas type II breaths were characterised by inhalation only. It was also hypothesized that the type I breaths were employed to meet oxygen demands, whereas the type II breaths were used to regulate gas bladder volume. However, they did not investigate the potential presence of a periodic ventilatory pattern. We now report the results of just such an analysis of ventilatory pattern that demonstrates a clear periodism to air-breathing in a primitive fish.

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