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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 18;8(10):e75422. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075422. eCollection 2013.

Body fineness ratio as a predictor of maximum prolonged-swimming speed in coral reef fishes.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine, United States of America.


The ability to sustain high swimming speeds is believed to be an important factor affecting resource acquisition in fishes. While we have gained insights into how fin morphology and motion influences swimming performance in coral reef fishes, the role of other traits, such as body shape, remains poorly understood. We explore the ability of two mechanistic models of the causal relationship between body fineness ratio and endurance swimming-performance to predict maximum prolonged-swimming speed (Umax ) among 84 fish species from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. A drag model, based on semi-empirical data on the drag of rigid, submerged bodies of revolution, was applied to species that employ pectoral-fin propulsion with a rigid body at U max. An alternative model, based on the results of computer simulations of optimal shape in self-propelled undulating bodies, was applied to the species that swim by body-caudal-fin propulsion at Umax . For pectoral-fin swimmers, Umax increased with fineness, and the rate of increase decreased with fineness, as predicted by the drag model. While the mechanistic and statistical models of the relationship between fineness and Umax were very similar, the mechanistic (and statistical) model explained only a small fraction of the variance in Umax . For body-caudal-fin swimmers, we found a non-linear relationship between fineness and Umax , which was largely negative over most of the range of fineness. This pattern fails to support either predictions from the computational models or standard functional interpretations of body shape variation in fishes. Our results suggest that the widespread hypothesis that a more optimal fineness increases endurance-swimming performance via reduced drag should be limited to fishes that swim with rigid bodies.

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