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The lateral line can mediate rheotaxis in fish


Rheotaxis is a behavioural orientation to water currents1. It has been demonstrated physiologically that some lateral-line receptors are particularly well suited to provide information on water currents2, but their contribution to rheotaxis has been largely overlooked. The accepted view is that rheotaxis is mediated by visual and tactile cues1, and that in rheotactic orientation “the lateral lines play only a minor role”3. Here we provide a direct demonstration that rheotaxis can be mediated by the lateral line, and indeed by one specific receptor class of this system. In three diverse fish species, pharmacological block of the entire lateral-line system substantially increases the velocity threshold for rheotactic behaviour. The same effect is observed when only superficial neuromasts are ablated, whereas blockade of the other receptor class, canal neuromasts, has no such effect. Our results therefore demonstrate that superficial neuromasts make an important contribution to rheotactic behaviour in fish.

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Figure 1: Lateral-line sense organs and rheotactic responses of the torrentfish.
Figure 2: Lateral-line sense organs and rheotactic responses of the antarctic fish.
Figure 3: Lateral-line sense organs and rheotactic responses of the blind cave-fish.


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We thank the Marsden Fund for support, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World for an Antarctic scholarship and Carol Diebel for at times acting in loco mentoris.

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Correspondence to John C. Montgomery.

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Montgomery, J., Baker, C. & Carton, A. The lateral line can mediate rheotaxis in fish. Nature 389, 960–963 (1997).

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