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Sharks need the lateral line to locate odor sources: rheotaxis and eddy chemotaxis
Jayne M. Gardiner, Jelle Atema


Odor plumes are complex, dynamic, three-dimensional structures used by many animals to locate food, mates, home sites, etc. Yet odor itself has no directional properties. Animals use a variety of different senses to obtain directional information. Since most odor plumes are composed of dispersing odor patches and dissipating vorticity eddies, aquatic animals may localize odor sources by simultaneous analysis of chemical and hydrodynamic dispersal fields, a process referred to as eddy chemotaxis. This study examines the contributions of olfaction, mechanoreception and vision to odor source localization in a shark, the smooth dogfish Mustelus canis. Two parallel, turbulent plumes were created in an 8 m flume: squid rinse odor and seawater control. Minimally turbulent `oozing' sources of odor and seawater control were physically separated from sources of major turbulence by placing a brick downstream from each oozing source, creating two turbulent wakes, one or the other flavored with food odor. This created four separate targets for the sharks to locate. Animals were tested under two light conditions (fluorescent and infrared) and in two sensory conditions (lateral line intact and lateral line lesioned by streptomycin). Intact animals demonstrated a preference for the odor plume over the seawater plume and for the source of odor/turbulence (the brick on the odor side) over the source of the odor alone (the odor-oozing nozzle). Plume and target preference and search time were not significantly affected by light condition. In the light, lesioning the lateral line increased search time but did not affect success rate or plume preference. However, lesioned animals no longer discriminated between sources of turbulent and oozing odor. In the dark, search time of lesioned animals further increased, and the few animals that located any of the targets did not discriminate between odor and seawater plumes, let alone targets. These results demonstrate for the first time that sharks require both olfactory and lateral line input for efficient and precise tracking of odor-flavored wakes and that visual input can improve food-finding performance when lateral line information is not available. We distinguish between rheotaxis: orientation to the large-scale flow field (olfaction, vision and superficial lateral line), eddy chemotaxis: tracking the trail of small-scale, odor-flavored turbulence (olfaction and lateral line canals), and pinpointing the source of the plume (lateral line canals and olfaction).

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