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, 42 (5), 1009-17

Experimental Hydrodynamics and Evolution: Function of Median Fins in Ray-finned Fishes


Experimental Hydrodynamics and Evolution: Function of Median Fins in Ray-finned Fishes

George V Lauder et al. Integr Comp Biol.


The median fins of fishes consist of the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins and have long been thought to play an important role in generating locomotor force during both steady swimming and maneuvering. But the orientations and magnitudes of these forces, the mechanisms by which they are generated, and how fish modulate median fin forces have remained largely unknown until the recent advent of Digital Particle Image Velocimetry (DPIV) which allows empirical analysis of force magnitude and direction. Experimental hydrodynamic studies of median fin function in fishes are of special utility when conducted in a comparative phylogenetic context, and we have examined fin function in four ray-finned fish clades (sturgeon, trout, sunfish, and mackerel) with the goal of testing classical hypotheses of fin function and evolution. In this paper we summarize two recent technical developments in DPIV methodology, and discuss key recent findings relevant to median fin function. High-resolution DPIV using a recursive local-correlation algorithm allows quantification of small vortices, while stereo-DPIV permits simultaneous measurement of x, y, and z flow velocity components within a single planar light sheet. Analyses of median fin wakes reveal that lateral forces are high relative to thrust force, and that mechanical performance of median fins (i.e., thrust as a proportion of total force) averages 0.35, a surprisingly low value. Large lateral forces which could arise as an unavoidable consequence of thrust generation using an undulatory propulsor may also enhance stability and maneuverability. Analysis of hydrodynamic function of the soft dorsal fin in bluegill sunfish shows that a thrust wake is generated that accounts for 12% of total thrust and that the thrust generation by the caudal fin may be enhanced by interception of the dorsal fin wake. Integration of experimental studies of fin wakes, computational approaches, and mechanical models of fin function promise understanding of instantaneous forces on fish fins during the propulsive cycle as well as exploration of a broader locomotor design space and its hydrodynamic consequences.

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