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Journal of Experimental Biology





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Brevoortia tyrannus, menhaden, vision, mechanoreception, ontogeny, larva, sensory development, behavior, functional morphology


The importance of visual, mechanoreceptive and auditory inputs to escape responses was examined in larvae of the Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) presented with a simulated predatory stimulus. Ontogenetic changes in the retina, superficial neuromasts and auditory bullae were examined in concert with behavioral trials in which sensory inputs were selectively blocked. Menhaden larvae showed a decrease in cone photoreceptor density and first developed rod photoreceptors when their total length (TL) reached 8-10 mm; they began summing photoreceptive inputs at 12-14 mm TL. Inflation of the auditory bullae was complete by 15 mm TL. The proliferation of superficial neuromasts varied depending on their location, with cephalic superficial neuromasts decreasing in number beginning at 19 mm TL and numbers of trunk neuromasts continuing to increase throughout the larval period. In behavioral trials, responsiveness and the reactive distance to the approaching probe increased with increasing larva total length when all sensory inputs were available (control larvae). When visual inputs were blocked, responsiveness was lower than in control larvae, but still increased ontogenetically, while reactive distance showed no difference between control larvae and those lacking visual information. When neuromasts were ablated, ontogenetic increases in responsiveness and reactive distance were absent. Inflation of the auditory bullae had no discernible effect on behavior. The anatomical and behavioral results suggest that both vision and mechanoreception are used to trigger a response to a looming predatory stimulus and that mechanoreception, but not vision, contributes to the timing of the response. Ontogenetic improvements in performance are attributed mainly to neuromast proliferation and not to ontogenetic changes in the retina.

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