Slow-moving predatory gastropods track prey odors in fast and turbulent flow

J Exp Biol. 2005 Mar;208(Pt 5):809-19. doi: 10.1242/jeb.01438.


Olfactory searching by aquatic predators is reliant upon the hydrodynamic processes that transport and modify chemical signals. Previous studies indicate that the search behavior of some benthic crustaceans is hindered by rapid water flow and turbulent mixing of prey chemicals, but different sensory strategies employed by other taxa might offset such detrimental effects. Using a laboratory flume, we investigated the odor-tracking behavior of a marine gastropod whelk (Busycon carica) to test the generalization that turbulence interferes with chemically mediated navigation. We exposed individual whelks to turbulent odor plumes in free-stream velocities of 1.5, 5, 10 or 15 cm s(-1), or with one of two obstructions placed upstream of the odor source in an intermediate flow of 5 cm s(-1). Measurements of velocity and stimulus properties confirmed that obstruction treatments increased turbulence intensity and altered the fine-scale structure of downstream odor plumes. In all conditions tested, between 36-63% of test animals successfully located the odor source from 1.5 m downstream with no significant effect of flow treatment. Search behaviors, such as cross-stream meander were reduced at higher flow velocities and in the presence of obstructions, allowing whelks to reach the odor source significantly more quickly than in slower, less turbulent conditions. Our results demonstrate that whelks can respond to chemical information in fast and turbulent flow, and we suggest that these slow-moving predators can forage in hydrodynamic environments where the olfactory abilities of other taxa are limited.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Georgia
  • Mollusca / physiology*
  • Odorants*
  • Seawater
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Water Movements*