Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 44, Issue 1–3, pp 143–155 | Cite as

Ecomorphology of solitary chemosensory cell systems in fish: a review

  • Kurt Kotrschal


Solitary chemosensory cells (SCCs) are present in the skin of a wide spectrum of lower vertebrates, such as lampreys, elasmobranchs, teleost fishes and some amphibians (Kotrschal 1991, Whitear 1992). However, due to the difficulties studying them, virtually all our present knowledge on SCCs stems from the anterior dorsal fin of two species of rocklings (Gadidae). This fin is a peculiar chemosensory organ, carrying approximately 5 million SCCs (Kotrschal et al. 1984, Kotrschal & Whitear 1988). The evidence derived from this model on the structure of SCCs, on their innervation and brain representation, on the flow dynamics at the receptors, on their electrophysiological responses and behavioral relevance indicates that this fin is actively sampling for substances leaked from other fish, such as body mucus and bile components. Possibly, the rockling anterior dorsal fin aids in predators avoidance. To generate hypotheses on the functions and biological roles of the generalized., scattered SCC systems present in most fishes, their structural parameters are put in perspective to taste bud structure and function and to the rockling results. Ecomorphological reasoning serves to establish testable hypotheses: in essence, SCC systems spread over the body surface may be designed as general water samplers, but not for the exact localization of a stimulus source. If the function of the latter is equally dependent on water flow, as the rockling fin organ, fish would have to rely either on the ambient water flow, or speed up their own swimming to optimize SCC input. If SCCs are indeed evolved in the context of predator avoidance, a comparison between life history intervals and between species should reveal, that the system varies in accordance with predation pressure. It is concluded, that in fish, SCCs are certainly an important source of environmental information. If we do not understand functions and biological roles of SCCs, it will not be possible to explain fish behavior and ecology. Evidently, further investigations are urgently needed.

Key words

Chemoreception, Cyprinidae, Gadidae, Facial nerve, Skin, Taste, Teleosts, Rocklings 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt Kotrschal
    • 1
  1. 1.Zoologisches Institut der Universität Wien and Konrad Lorenz ForschungsstelleGrünau IIAustria

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