Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 176, Issue 1, pp 17–25 | Cite as

Swimming efficiency and the influence of morphology on swimming costs in fishes

  • J. OhlbergerEmail author
  • G. Staaks
  • F. Hölker
Original Paper


Swimming performance is considered a main character determining survival in many aquatic animals. Body morphology highly influences the energetic costs and efficiency of swimming and sets general limits on a species capacity to use habitats and foods. For two cyprinid fishes with different morphological characteristics, carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) and roach (Rutilus rutilus (L.)), optimum swimming speeds (U mc) as well as total and net costs of transport (COT, NCOT) were determined to evaluate differences in their swimming efficiency. Costs of transport and optimum speeds proved to be allometric functions of fish mass. NCOT was higher but U mc was lower in carp, indicating a lower swimming efficiency compared to roach. The differences in swimming costs are attributed to the different ecological demands of the species and could partly be explained by their morphological characteristics. Body fineness ratios were used to quantify the influence of body shape on activity costs. This factor proved to be significantly different between the species, indicating a better streamlining in roach with values closer to the optimum body form for efficient swimming. Net swimming costs were directly related to fish morphology.


Energetic costs Fish Morphology Optimum speed Swimming efficiency 



Active metabolic rate (W)


Total cost of transport when swimming at U mc


COT times body weight (N)


Fish mass (kg)


Net cost of transport


Standard metabolic rate (W)


Swimming speed (m s−1)


Swimming speed associated with minimum costs (m s−1)



The authors wish to thank Thomas Mehner for helpful comments on the manuscript, Christof Engelhardt and Alexander Sukhodolov for assistance with the flow velocity calibration and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. The experiments comply with the German Guidelines for Animal Care.


  1. Aleyev YG (1977) Nekton. Junk, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  2. Beamish FWH (1978) Swimming capacity. In: Hoar WS, Randall DJ (eds) Fish physiology. Academic, New York, pp 101–189Google Scholar
  3. Bell WH, Terhune LDB (1970) Water tunnel design for fisheries research. Fish Res Board Can Tech Rep 195:1–69Google Scholar
  4. Blake RW (1983) Functional design and burst-and-coast swimming in fishes. Can J Zool 61:2491–2494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clarke A, Johnston M (1999) Scaling of metabolic rate with body mass and temperature in teleost fish. J Anim Ecol 68:893–905CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cowx IG, Welcomme RL (1998) Rehabilitation of rivers for fish. Fishing News Books for the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Dalla Via GJ (1983) Bacterial growth and antibiotics in animal respirometry. In: Gnaiger E, Forstner H (eds) Polarographic oxygen sensors. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 202–218Google Scholar
  8. Fish FE (1998) Comparative kinematics and hydrodynamics of odontocete cetaceans: morphological and ecological correlates with swimming performance. J Exp Biol 201:2867–2877Google Scholar
  9. Hammer C (1995) Fatigue and exercise tests with fish. Comp Biochem Physiol A 112:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hepher B (1988) Nutrition of pond fishes. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Herrmann J-P, Enders EC (2000) Effect of body size on the standard metabolism of horse mackerel. J Fish Biol 57:746–760CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Howell AB (1930) Aquatic mammals. Charles C Thomas, Springfield, ILGoogle Scholar
  13. Hölker F (2000) Bioenergetik dominanter Fischarten (Abramis brama (Linnaeus, 1758) und Rutilus rutilus (Linnaeus, 1758) in einem eutrophen See Schleswig-Holsteins—Ökophysiologie und individuenbasierte Modellierung. EcoSys (Suppl) 32:1–117Google Scholar
  14. Hölker F (2003) The metabolic rate of roach in relation to body size and temperature. J Fish Biol 62:565–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kaufmann R, Wieser W (1992) Influence of temperature and ambient oxygen on the swimming energetics of cyprinid larvae and juveniles. Environ Biol Fishes 33:87–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Korsmeyer KE, Steffensen JF, Herskin J (2002) Energetics of median and paired fin swimming, body and caudal fin swimming, and gait transition in parrotfish (Scarus schlegeli) and triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus). J Exp Biol 205:1253–1263PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Kraus NC, Lohrmann A, Cabrera R (1994) New acoustic meter for measuring 3D laboratory flows. J Hydraul Eng 120:406–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Landweber L (1961) Motion of emmersed and floating bodies. In: Streeter VL (ed) Handbook of fluid dynamics. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Lighthill J (1969) Hydrodynamics of aquatic animal propulsion—a survey. Annu Rev Fluid Mech 1:413–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Matthews WJ (1998) Patterns in freshwater fish ecology. Kluwer Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. von Mises R (1945) Theory of flight. Dover Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Ohlberger J, Staaks G, van Dijk PLM, Hölker F (2005) Modelling energetic costs of fish swimming. J Exp Zool 303A:657–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pettersson LB, Brönmark C (1997) Density-dependent costs of an inducible morphological defence in crucian carp. Ecology 78:1805–1815CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pettersson LB, Hedenström A (2000) Energetics, cost reduction and functional consequences of fish morphology. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 267:759–764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Plaut I (2001) Critical swimming speed: its ecological relevance. Comp Biochem Physiol A 131:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Priede IG (1985) Metabolic scope in fishes. In: Tytler P, Calow P (eds) Fish energetics: new perspectives. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, pp 33–64Google Scholar
  27. Rome LC, Funke RP, Alexander RM, Lutz G, Aldridge H, Scott F, Freadman M (1988) Why animals have different muscle fibre types. Nature 335:824–827CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Scarnecchia DL (1988) The importance of streamlining in influencing fish community structure in channelized and unchannelized reaches of a prairie stream. Reg Riv Res Manage 2:155–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Steffens W (1964) Vergleichende anatomisch-physiologische Untersuchungen an Wild- und Teichkarpfen (Cyprinus carpio L.). Ein Beitrag zur Beurteilung der Zuchtleistungen beim deutschen Teichkarpfen. Z f Fischerei, N F 12:725–800Google Scholar
  30. Steffensen JF, Johansen K, Bushnell PG (1984) An automated swimming respirometer. Comp Biochem Physiol A 79:437–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Svanbäck R, Eklöv P (2004) Morphology in perch affects habitat specific feeding efficiency. Funct Ecol 18:503–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Takeda T, Itazawa Y (1979) An estimation of the minimum level of dissolved oxygen in water required for normal life of fish. III. An experiment with carp avoiding carbon dioxide accumulation. Bull Jpn Soc Sci Fish 45:329–333Google Scholar
  33. Tucker VA (1970) Energetic cost of locomotion in animals. Comp Biochem Physiol A 34:841–846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Videler JJ (1993) Fish swimming. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. Videler JJ, Nolet BA (1990) Cost of swimming measured at optimum speed: scaling effects, differences between swimming styles, taxonomic groups and submerged and surface swimming. Comp Biochem Physiol A 97:91–99CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Vogel S (1981) Life in moving fluids. Willard Grant Press, Boston, MAGoogle Scholar
  37. Wainwright PC (1991) Ecomorphology: experimental functional anatomy for ecological problems. Am Zool 31:635–645Google Scholar
  38. Wainwright PC (2002) Ecomorphology of locomotion in labrid fishes. Environ Biol Fishes 65:47–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Walker JA (2004) Dynamics of pectoral fin rowing in a fish with an extreme rowing stroke: the threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). J Exp Biol 207:1925–1939CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Wardle CS, Soofiani NM, O’Neill FG, Glass CW, Johnstone ADF (1996) Measurements of aerobic metabolism of a school of horse mackerel at different swimming speeds. J Fish Biol 49:854–862CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Webb PW (1975) Hydrodynamics and energetics of fish propulsion. Bull Fish Res Board Can 190FGoogle Scholar
  42. Webb PW (1993) Swimming. In: Evans DD (ed) The physiology of fishes. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, pp 47–73Google Scholar
  43. Webb PW (1994) Exercise performance of fish. In: Jones JH (ed) Comparative vertebrate exercise physiology: phyletic adaptations. Academic, San Diego, CA, pp 1–49Google Scholar
  44. Weihs D (1973) Optimal fish cruising speed. Nature 245:48–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weihs D, Webb PW (1983) Optimization of locomotion. In: Webb PW, Weihs D (eds) Fish biomechanics. Praeger, New York, NY, pp 339–371Google Scholar
  46. Wieser W (1991) Physiological energetics and ecophysiology. In: Winfield IJ, Nelson JS (eds) Cyprinid fishes: systematics, biology and exploitation. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 427–455Google Scholar
  47. Zar JH (1999) Biostatistical analysis. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJGoogle Scholar
  48. Zauner G, Eberstaller J (1999) Klassifizierungsschema der österreichischen Flußfischfauna in bezug auf deren Lebensraumansprüche. Österreichs Fischerei 52:198–205Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland FisheriesBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations