Side biases in behavior, reflecting lateral specializations of the brain, are widespread amongst vertebrates. We studied laterality in the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) to gain insight into the evolution of the complementary specializations of predator avoidance (right hemisphere) and foraging behavior (left hemisphere). Because N. forsteri is the closest extant ancestor of the first land-dwelling vertebrates, knowledge of laterality in this species should provide a missing link in the transition from fish to tetrapods. Predator escape responses were elicited by generating pressure waves and a significant bias for C-start responses to the left side was found. This bias was unaffected by activity levels that change according to a diurnal cycle: activity is higher in the dark phase than the light phase. A complementary bias to turn to the right side was found during feeding behavior. This pattern of opposite-side specializations matches that known for fish, anurans, reptiles, birds and, as some evidence indicates, also mammals. Hence, we conclude that it is a homologous pattern of lateralization that evolved in early aquatic vertebrates and was retained as they made the transition to land-dwelling tetrapods.
- C-start response