The role of olfaction throughout juvenile development: Functional adaptations in elasmobranchs Academic Article uri icon


  • Seven elasmobranch species, a group known for their highly-developed sense of smell, were examined for developmental changes in the number of olfactory lamellae, the size of the surface area of the sensory olfactory epithelium and the mass of both the olfactory rosettes (primary input to the CNS), and the olfactory bulbs. Within each species, juveniles possessed miniature versions of the adult olfactory organs, visually not distinguishable from these and without any obvious structural differences (e.g., with respect to the number of lamellae and the extent of secondary folding) between differently sized individuals. The size of the olfactory organs was positively correlated with body length and body mass, although few species showed proportional size scaling. In Aetobatus narinari and Aptychotrema rostrata, olfactory structures increased in proportion to body size. With respect to the growth of the olfactory bulb, all species showed allometric but not proportional growth. Olfaction may be of particular importance to juveniles in general, which are often subjected to heavy predation rates and fierce inter/intraspecific competition. Accordingly, it would be advantageous to possess a fully functional olfactory system early on in development. Slow growth rates of olfactory structures could then be attributed to a greater reliance on other sensory systems with increasing age or simply be regarded as maintaining an already optimized olfactory system.

publication date

  • 2009