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Why do fish school?

Author(s): Matz LARSSON

Journal: Current Zoology
ISSN 1674-5507

Volume: 58;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 116;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Group synchrony | Hearing in fish | Lateral line | Electro-sensory system | Sensory reafference | Lateralization

Synchronized movements (schooling) emit complex and overlapping sound and pressure curves that might confuse the inner ear and lateral line organ (LLO) of a predator. Moreover, prey-fish moving close to each other may blur the electro-sensory perception of predators. The aim of this review is to explore mechanisms associated with synchronous swimming that may have contributed to increased adaptation and as a consequence may have influenced the evolution of schooling. The evolutionary development of the inner ear and the LLO increased the capacity to detect potential prey, possibly leading to an increased potential for cannibalism in the shoal, but also helped small fish to avoid joining larger fish, resulting in size homogeneity and, accordingly, an increased capacity for moving in synchrony. Water-movements and incidental sound produced as by-product of locomotion (ISOL) may provide fish with potentially useful information during swimming, such as neighbour body-size, speed, and location. When many fish move close to one another ISOL will be energetic and complex. Quiet intervals will be few. Fish moving in synchrony will have the capacity to discontinue movements simultaneously, providing relatively quiet intervals to allow the reception of potentially critical environmental signals. Besides, synchronized movements may facilitate auditory grouping of ISOL. Turning preference bias, well-functioning sense organs, good health, and skillful motor performance might be important to achieving an appropriate distance to school neighbors and aid the individual fish in reducing time spent in the comparatively less safe school periphery. Turning preferences in ancestral fish shoals might have helped fish to maintain groups and stay in formation, reinforcing aforementioned predator confusion mechanisms, which possibly played a role in the lateralization of the vertebrate brain [Current Zoology 58 (1): 116–128, 2012].
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