The Neuroecology of Cartilaginous Fishes: Sensory Strategies for Survival Conference Paper uri icon


  • As apex predators, chondrichthyans, or cartilaginous fishes, hold an important position within a range of aquatic ecosystems and influence the balance between species' abundance and biodiversity. Having been in existence for over 400 million years and representing the earliest stages of the evolution of jawed vertebrates, this group also covers a diverse range of eco-morphotypes, occupying both marine and freshwater habitats. The class Chondrichthyes is divided into two subclasses: the Elasmobranchii (sharks, skates, and rays) and the Holocephali (elephant sharks and chimaeras). However, many of their life history traits, such as low fecundity, the production of small numbers of highly precocious young, slow growth rates, and late maturity, make them highly susceptible to human exploitation. To mitigate the negative effects of human impacts, it is important that we understand the sensory strategies that elasmobranchs use for navigating within their environment, forming reproductive aggregations, feeding, and even communicating. One approach to investigate the sensory bases of their behavior is to examine the peripheral sense organs mediating vision, olfaction, gustation, lateral line, electroreception, and audition in a large range of species in order to identify specific adaptations, the range of sensitivity thresholds, and the compromise between sensory spatial resolution and sensitivity. In addition, we can quantitatively assess the convergence of sensory input to the central nervous system and the relative importance of different sensory modalities. Using a comparative approach and often a combination of anatomical, electrophysiological, and molecular techniques, significant variation has been identified in the spatial and chromatic sampling of the photoreceptors in the eye, the surface area and the number of olfactory lamellae within the nasal cavity, the level of gustatory sampling within the oral cavity, the type and innervation of neuromasts of the lateral line system, the distribution of electroreceptive pores over the head, and the morphology of the inner ear. These results are presented in the context of predictions of sensory capabilities for species living in a range of ecological niches, what further research is needed, and how this sensory input may be a predictor of behavior.

publication date

  • 2012