The Three Dimensional Spatial Structure of Antarctic Krill Schools in the Laboratory

Sci Rep. 2019 Jan 23;9(1):381. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37379-9.


Animal positions within moving groups may reflect multiple motivations including saving energy and sensing neighbors. These motivations have been proposed for schools of Antarctic krill, but little is known about their three-dimensional structure. Stereophotogrammetric images of Antarctic krill schooling in the laboratory are used to determine statistical distributions of swimming speed, nearest neighbor distance, and three-dimensional nearest neighbor positions. The krill schools swim at speeds of two body lengths per second at nearest neighbor distances of one body length and reach similarly high levels of organization as fish schools. The nearest neighbor position distribution is highly anisotropic and shows that Antarctic krill prefer to swim in the propulsion jet of their anterior neighbor. This position promotes communication and coordination among schoolmates via hydrodynamic signals within the pulsed jet created by the metachronal stroking of the neighboring krill's pleopods. The hydrodynamic communication channel therefore plays a large role in structuring the school. Further, Antarctic krill avoid having a nearest neighbor directly overhead, possibly to avoid blockage of overhead light needed for orientation. Other factors, including the elongated body shape of Antarctic krill and potential energy savings, also may help determine the three dimensional spatial structure of tightly packed krill schools.

Publication types

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