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Critical swimming speed: its ecological relevance.

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Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences and Science Education, University of Haifa-Oranim, Tivon 36006, Israel.


Critical swimming speed (U(crit)) is a standard measurement to assess swimming capabilities of fishes. To conduct this measurement a fish is introduced into a water tunnel in which the current velocity can be controlled by the investigator. At the beginning of the measurement water velocity is low, approximately 1 body length (BL) s(-1), and is then incrementally increased at prescribed intervals. Fishes tend to maintain their position in the water tunnel against the current until fatigue sets in. The time and velocity at which the fish fatigue are used to calculate the critical swimming speed. This procedure is widely used to assess the effects of environmental conditions and pollutants on fish performance. Since the procedure is conducted in conditions that are far from representing most natural environment experienced by fishes, doubts have been raised about its ecological and ecophysiological relevance. Few studies examined correlations between critical swimming speed and traits that seem to be more ecologically relevant. Positive correlations were found between U(crit) and routine activity, metabolic rates and body size of open water, planktivorous fishes, metabolic rates and body size. These data indirectly suggest ecological relevancy of U(crit), but direct measurements relating U(crit) to reproductive success or survival are required to assess such relevancy.

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