Morphometric and ultrastructural comparison of the olfactory system in elasmobranchs: The significance of structure-function relationships based on phylogeny and ecology Academic Article uri icon


  • This study investigated the relationship between olfactory morphology, habitat occupancy, and lifestyle in 21 elasmobranch species in a phylogenetic context. Four measures of olfactory capability, that is, the number of olfactory lamellae, the surface area of the olfactory epithelium, the mass of the olfactory bulb, and the mass of the olfactory rosette were compared between individual species and groups, comprised of species with similar habitat and/or lifestyle. Statistical analyses using generalized least squares phylogenetic regression revealed that bentho-pelagic sharks and rays possess significantly more olfactory lamellae and larger sensory epithelial surface areas than benthic species. There was no significant correlation between either olfactory bulb or rosette mass and habitat type. There was also no significant difference between the number of lamellae or the size of the sensory surface area in groups comprised of species with similar diets, that is, groups preying predominantly on crustaceans, cephalopods, echinoderms, polychaetes, molluscs, or teleosts. However, some groups had significantly larger olfactory bulb or rosette masses than others. There was little evidence to support a correlation between phylogeny and morphology, indicating that differences in olfactory capabilities are the result of functional rather than phylogenetic adaptations. All olfactory epithelia exhibited microvilli and cilia, with microvilli in both nonsensory and sensory areas, and cilia only in sensory areas. Cilia over the sensory epithelia originated from supporting cells. In contrast to teleosts, which possess ciliated and microvillous olfactory receptor types, no ciliated olfactory receptor cells were observed. This is the first comprehensive study comparing olfactory morphology to several aspects of elasmobranch ecology in a phylogenetic context.


  • Schluessel, Vera
  • Bennett, Michael B
  • Bleckmann, Horst
  • Blomberg, Simon
  • Collin, Shaun P

publication date

  • November 2008

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