Ichthyology is the study of fish that focuses on many types of fish including cartilaginous fish, jawless fish, and skeletal fish. This branch of zoology can be associated with marine biology and fisheries science, as well as other areas of study. Ichthyologists, those who practice ichthyology, have discovered more than 32,200 species of fish, and it is thought that they discover 250 new species each year. Humans first began to study fish during the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, when humans realized that they needed food, clothing, and varied equipment to survive.
The first scientific studies of fished occurred between 335 BC–80 AD, when Aristotle described 117 species of fish. Along with these early classifications, he documented behavioral and anatomical differences between marine mammals and fish, and some of his pupils continued his work after his death. Pliny the Elder contributed the last information about fish during his time, compiling a list of verifiable and questionable scientific information from the Greek world. There were no advancements in ichthyology until the European Renaissance, when three scholars introduced the modern ichthyology by actually studying fish, rather than reciting previous writings. Although all three of these men were credited with the advancements, the work of Guillaume Rondelet is thought to be the most important.
When shipbuilding and navigation boomed between the sixteenth and seventeenth century, many naturalists were given the opportunity to travel and to specialize in an area of study. These advancements helped naturalists like Georg Marcgrave study and describe one hundred species of fish from the Brazilian Coastline in his Naturalis Brasilae, and John Ray and Francis Willughby, who studied and described 420 known and new species of fish, documenting them in Historia Piscium using a provisional system of classification. Carolus Linnaeus, as well as his colleague Peter Artedi who would become known as the father of ichthyology, later updated this system.
By the time modern ichthyology had been developed, 4,514 species of fish had been identified and these were cataloged in a twenty-two volume set written by Georges Cuvier. These books, known as Histoire Naturelle des Poissons and published between 1828 and 1849, contained 2,311 species that were new to science at that time. Other modern ichthyologists include Louis Agassiz, who is known for pioneering paleoichthyology and his studies of freshwater fish and other organisms. As with other branches of zoology, ichthyology has many groups dedicated to it including the Association of Systematics Collections, North American Native Fishes Association, and the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong.
Image Caption: Latimeria chalumnae, a species of coelacanth (family Latimeriidae). Credit: Robbie Cada/Wikipedia