Importance of mechanics and kinematics in determining the stiffness contribution of the vertebral column during body-caudal-fin swimming in fishes

Zoology (Jena). 2014 Feb;117(1):28-35. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2013.10.003. Epub 2013 Dec 4.


Whole-body stiffness in fishes has important consequences for swimming mode, speed and efficiency, but the contribution of vertebral column stiffness to whole-body stiffness is unclear. In our opinion, this lack of clarity is due in part to the lack of studies that have measured both in vitro mechanical properties of the vertebral column as well as in vivo vertebral kinematics in the same species. Some lack of clarity may also come from real variation in the mechanical role of the vertebral column across species. Previous studies, based on either mechanics or kinematics alone, suggest species-specific variation in vertebral column locomotor function that ranges from highly stiff regimes that contribute greatly to whole-body stiffness, and potentially act as a spring, to highly compliant regimes that only prohibit excessive flexion of the intervertebral joints. We review data collected in combined investigations of both mechanics and kinematics of three species, Myxine glutinosa, Acipenser transmontanus, and Morone saxatilis, to illustrate how mechanical testing within the context of the in vivo kinematics more clearly distinguishes the role of the vertebral column in each species. In addition, we identify species for which kinematic data are available, but mechanical data are lacking. We encourage further investigation of these species to fill these mechanical data gaps. Finally, we hope these future combined analyses will identify certain morphological, mechanical, or kinematic parameters that might be associated with certain vertebral column functional regimes with respect to body stiffness.

Keywords: Body stiffness; Intervertebral joints; Locomotion; Vertebral column.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Fishes / anatomy & histology*
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Spine / anatomy & histology*
  • Spine / physiology*
  • Swimming*