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Shape variation in a benthic stream fish across flow regimes

Meyers, Peter J., Belk, Mark C.
Hydrobiologia 2014 v.738 no.1 pp. 147-154
Catostomus, evolution, fish, morphometry, stream flow, swimming, turbulent flow
Evolution of fish body shapes in flowing and non-flowing waters have been examined for several species. Flowing water can select for fish body shapes that increase steady swimming efficiency, whereas non-flowing water can favor shapes that increase unsteady swimming efficiency. Benthic stream fishes often use areas near the substrate that exhibit reduced or turbulent flow, thus it is unclear which swimming forms would be favored in such environments, and how shape might change across flow regimes. To test the relationship between fish body shape and flow regime in a benthic stream fish, we used geometric morphometric techniques to characterize lateral body shape in mountain sucker (Catostomus platyrhynchus) across flow rates, using stream gradient as an indicator of stream flow. Mountain suckers from low-flow environments were more streamlined, consistent with steady swimming body shapes, whereas mountain suckers from high flows had deeper bodies, consistent with unsteady swimming body shapes. In addition, smaller individuals tended to have more robust body shapes. These patterns are opposite to those predicted for stream fishes in the mid-water column. The benthic stream environment represents a distinct selective environment for fish shape that does not appear to conform to the simple dichotomy of flowing versus non-flowing water.