Aerobic capacity influences the spatial position of individuals within fish schools

Shaun S. Killen, Stefano Marras, John Fleng Steffensen, David McKenzie

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The schooling behaviour of fish is of great biological importance, playing a crucial role in the foraging and predator avoidance of numerous species. The extent to which physiological performance traits affect the spatial positioning of individual fish within schools is completely unknown. Schools of juvenile mullet Liza aurata were filmed at three swim speeds in a swim tunnel, with one focal fish from each school then also measured for standard metabolic rate (SMR), maximal metabolic rate (MMR), aerobic scope (AS) and maximum aerobic swim speed. At faster speeds, fish with lower MMR and AS swam near the rear of schools. These trailing fish required fewer tail beats to swim at the same speed as individuals at the front of schools, indicating that posterior positions provide hydrodynamic benefits that reduce swimming costs. Conversely, fish with high aerobic capacity can withstand increased drag at the leading edge of schools, where they could maximize food intake while possibly retaining sufficient AS for other physiological functions. SMR was never related to position, suggesting that high maintenance costs do not necessarily motivate individuals to occupy frontal positions. In the wild, shifting of individuals to optimal spatial positions during changing conditions could influence structure or movement of entire schools.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1727
Pages (from-to)357-364
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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