Salps are barrel-shaped marine invertebrates that swim by jet propulsion. Morphological variations among species and life-cycle stages are accompanied by differences in swimming mode. The goal of this investigation was to compare propulsive jet wakes and swimming performance variables among morphologically distinct salp species (Pegea confoederata, Weelia (Salpa) cylindrica, Cyclosalpa sp.) and relate swimming patterns to ecological function. Using a combination of in situ dye visualization and particle image velocimetry (PIV) measurements, we describe properties of the jet wake and swimming performance variables including thrust, drag and propulsive efficiency. Locomotion by all species investigated was achieved via vortex ring propulsion. The slow-swimming P. confoederata produced the highest weight-specific thrust (T=53 N kg(-1)) and swam with the highest whole-cycle propulsive efficiency (eta(wc)=55%). The fast-swimming W. cylindrica had the most streamlined body shape but produced an intermediate weight-specific thrust (T=30 N kg(-1)) and swam with an intermediate whole-cycle propulsive efficiency (eta(wc)=52%). Weak swimming performance variables in the slow-swimming C. affinis, including the lowest weight-specific thrust (T=25 N kg(-1)) and lowest whole-cycle propulsive efficiency (eta(wc)=47%), may be compensated by low energetic requirements. Swimming performance variables are considered in the context of ecological roles and evolutionary relationships.