Size structures sensory hierarchy in ocean life

Erik Andreas Martens, Navish Wadhwa, Nis Sand Jacobsen, Christian Lindemann, Ken Haste Andersen, Andre Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Life in the ocean is shaped by the trade-off between a need to encounter other organisms for feeding or mating, and to avoid encounters with predators. Avoiding or achieving encounters necessitates an efficient means of collecting the maximum possible information from the surroundings through the use of remote sensing. In this study, we explore how sensing mode and range depend on body size. We reveal a hierarchy of sensing modes (chemosensing, mechanosensing, vision, hearing, and echolocation) where body size determines the available battery of sensing modes and where larger body size means a longer sensing range. The size-dependent hierarchy and the transitions between primary sensory modes are explained on the grounds of limiting factors set by physiology and the physical laws governing signal generation, transmission and reception. We characterize the governing mechanisms and theoretically predict the body size limits for various sensory modes, which align very well with size ranges found in literature. The treatise of all ocean life, from unicellular organisms to whales, demonstrates how body size determines available sensing modes, and thereby acts as a major structuring factor of aquatic life.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201513469
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1815
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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