Functional effect of vaterite – the presence of an alternative crystalline structure in otoliths alters escape kinematics of the brown trout [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Matthias Vignon and Jean-Christophe Aymes

The fast-start escape response is the main locomotor behaviour observed in fish to evade predatory attacks and thereby increase their probability of survival. Thus far, this high-speed sensory motor control has been extensively studied in relation to extrinsic factors. In contrast, there has been surprisingly little consideration of intrinsic individual factors that can mediate sensorial perception, such as inter-individual variability in mechanosensory systems. The inner ear of teleost fishes is composed of otoliths that play an important role in hearing and balance functions. While sagittal otoliths are normally composed of aragonite in many fish species, the inclusion of vaterite (an abnormal crystalline structure) has been reported in a number of individuals from different environments. There is currently strong theoretical and empirical evidence that vaterite deposition has a negative impact on auditory sensitivity in fishes. While the functional/behavioural implications of this defect on otolith-related hearing function has been hypothesised, it has remained largely untested experimentally. Here, using juvenile (0+ years) Salmo trutta originating from the wild in experimental conditions, we report for the first time that the deposition of calcium carbonate in its crystalline vateritic polymorph has significant pervasive effects on the escape kinematics of fish. The presence of an alternative crystalline structure in otoliths is likely to alter fish behaviour in ways that decrease survival. We also report that altered behaviour in individuals with vateritic otoliths is partially compensated for by the presence of a functional lateral line. Such functional compensation suggests more slight consequences, if any, in the wild.

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