Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 65, Issue 1, pp 47–62 | Cite as

Ecomorphology of Locomotion in Labrid Fishes

  • Peter C. Wainwright
  • David R. Bellwood
  • Mark W. Westneat


The Labridae is an ecologically diverse group of mostly reef associated marine fishes that swim primarily by oscillating their pectoral fins. To generate locomotor thrust, labrids employ the paired pectoral fins in motions that range from a fore-aft rowing stroke to a dorso-ventral flapping stroke. Species that emphasize one or the other behavior are expected to benefit from alternative fin shapes that maximize performance of their primary swimming behavior. We document the diversity of pectoral fin shape in 143 species of labrids from the Great Barrier Reef and the Caribbean. Pectoral fin aspect ratio ranged among species from 1.12 to 4.48 and showed a distribution with two peaks at about 2.0 and 3.0. Higher aspect ratio fins typically had a relatively long leading edge and were narrower distally. Body mass only explained 3% of the variation in fin aspect ratio in spite of four orders of magnitude range and an expectation that the advantages of high aspect ratio fins and flapping motion are greatest at large body sizes. Aspect ratio was correlated with the angle of attachment of the fin on the body (r = 0.65), indicating that the orientation of the pectoral girdle is rotated in high aspect ratio species to enable them to move their fin in a flapping motion. Field measures of routine swimming speed were made in 43 species from the Great Barrier Reef. Multiple regression revealed that fin aspect ratio explained 52% of the variation in size-corrected swimming speed, but the angle of attachment of the pectoral fin only explained an additional 2%. Labrid locomotor diversity appears to be related to a trade-off between efficiency of fast swimming and maneuverability in slow swimming species. Slow swimmers typically swim closer to the reef while fast swimmers dominate the water column and shallow, high-flow habitats. Planktivory was the most common trophic associate with high aspect ratio fins and fast swimming, apparently evolving six times.

pectoral fin aspect ratio Labridae allometry convergent evolution swimming speed 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter C. Wainwright
    • 1
  • David R. Bellwood
    • 2
  • Mark W. Westneat
    • 3
  1. 1.Section of Evolution and EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisU.S.A.
  2. 2.Centre for Coral Reef Biodiversity, Department of Marine BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyField Museum of Natural HistoryChicagoU.S.A

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