Morphology of the mechanosensory lateral line system in elasmobranch fishes: Ecological and behavioral considerations

Karen P. Maruska, Florida Institute of Technology


The relationship between morphology of the mechanosensory lateral line system and behavior is essentially unknown in elasmobranch fishes. Gross anatomy and spatial distribution of different peripheral lateral line components were examined in several batoids (Raja eglanteria, Narcine brasiliensis, Gymnura micrura, and Dasyatis sabina) and a bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, and are interpreted to infer possible behavioral functions for superficial neuromasts, canals, and vesicles of Savi in these species. Narcine brasiliensis has canals on the dorsal surface with 1 pore per tubule branch, lacks a ventral canal system, and has 8-10 vesicles of Savi in bilateral rows on the dorsal rostrum and numerous vesicles (x = 65 ± 6 SD per side) on the ventral rostrum. Raja eglanteria has superficial neuromasts in bilateral rows along the dorsal body midline and tail, a pair anterior to each endolymphatic pore, and a row of 5-6 between the infraorbital canal and eye. Raja eglanteria also has dorsal canals with I pore per tubule branch, pored and non-pored canals on the ventral surface, and lacks a ventral subpleural loop. Gymnura micrura has a pored dorsal canal system with extensive branch patterns, a pored ventral hyomandibular canal, and non-pored canal sections around the mouth. Dasyatis sabina has more canal pores on the dorsal body surface, but more canal neuromasts and greater diameter canals on the ventral surface. Sphyrna tiburo has primarily pored canals on both the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the head, as well as the posterior lateral line canal along the lateral body surface. Based upon these morphological data, pored canals on the dorsal body and tail of elasmobranchs are best positioned to detect water movements across the body surface generated by currents, predators, conspecifics, or distortions in the animal's flow field while swimming. In addition, pored canals on the ventral surface likely also detect water movements generated by prey. Superficial neuromasts are protected from stimulation caused by forward swimming motion by their position at the base of papillar grooves, and may detect water flow produced by currents, prey, predators, or conspecifics. Ventral non-pored canals and vesicles of Savi, which are found in benthic batoids, likely function as tactile or vibration receptors that encode displacements of the skin surface caused by prey, the substrate, or conspecifics. This mechanotactile mechanism is supported by the presence of compliant canal walls, neuromasts that are enclosed in wide diameter canals, and the presence of hair cells in neuromasts that are polarized both parallel to and nearly perpendicular to the canal axis in D. sabina. The mechanotactile, schooling, and mechanosensory parallel processing hypotheses are proposed as future directions to address the relationships between morphology and physiology of the mechanosensory lateral line system and behavior in elasmobranch fishes.