Swimming in unsteady water flows: is turning in a changing flow an energetically expensive endeavor for fish? [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Mathias S. Soerensen, John F. Steffensen, Peter G. Bushnell, and Keith E. Korsmeyer

Unsteady, dynamic flow regimes commonly found in shallow marine ecosystems such as coral reefs pose an energetic challenge for mobile organisms that typically depend on station holding for fitness-related activities. The majority of experimental studies, however, have measured energetic costs of locomotion at steady speeds, with only a few studies measuring the effects of oscillatory flows. In this study, we used a bidirectional swimming respirometer to create six oscillatory water flow regimes consisting of three frequency and amplitude combinations for both unidirectional and bidirectional oscillatory flows. Using the goldring surgeonfish, Ctenochaetus strigosus, a pectoral-fin (labriform) swimmer, we quantified the net cost of swimming (swimming metabolic rate minus standard metabolic rate) associated with station-holding under these various conditions. We determined that the swimming costs of station-holding in the bidirectional flow regime increased by 2-fold compared with costs based on swimming over the same range velocities at steady speeds. Furthermore, as we found minimal differences in energetic costs associated with station-holding in the unidirectional, oscillating-flow compared with that predicted from steady swimming costs, we conclude that the added acceleration costs are minimal, while the act of turning is an energetically expensive endeavor for this reef fish species.

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