Automated flow control of a multi-lane swimming chamber for small fishes indicates species-specific sensitivity to experimental protocols

Illing, Bjorn, Severati, Andrea, Hochen, Justin, Boyd, Paul, Raison, Paulin, Mather, Rachel, Downie, Adam T., Rummer, Jodie L., Kroon, Frederieke J., and Humphrey, Craig (2021) Automated flow control of a multi-lane swimming chamber for small fishes indicates species-specific sensitivity to experimental protocols. Conservation Physiology, 9 (1). coaa131.

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In fishes, swimming performance is considered an important metric to measure fitness, dispersal and migratory abilities. The swimming performance of individual larval fishes is often integrated into models to make inferences on how environmental parameters affect population-level dynamics (e.g. connectivity). However, little information exists regarding how experimental protocols affect the swimming performance of marine fish larvae. In addition, the technical setups used to measure larval fish swimming performance often lack automation and accurate control of water quality parameters and flow velocity. In this study, we automated the control of multi-lane swimming chambers for small fishes by developing an open-source algorithm. This automation allowed us to execute repeatable flow scenarios and reduce operator interference and inaccuracies in flow velocity typically associated with manual control. Furthermore, we made structural modifications to a prior design to reduce the areas of lower flow velocity. We then validated the flow dynamics of the new chambers using computational fluid dynamics and particle-tracking software. The algorithm provided an accurate alignment between the set and measured flow velocities and we used it to test whether faster critical swimming speed (Ucrit) protocols (i.e. shorter time intervals and higher velocity increments) would increase Ucrit of early life stages of two tropical fish species [4–10-mm standard length (SL)]. The Ucrit of barramundi (Lates calcarifer) and cinnamon anemonefish (Amphiprion melanopus) increased linearly with fish length, but in cinnamon anemonefish, Ucrit started to decrease upon metamorphosis. Swimming protocols using longer time intervals (more than 2.5 times increase) negatively affected Ucrit in cinnamon anemonefish but not in barramundi. These species-specific differences in swimming performance highlight the importance of testing suitable Ucrit protocols prior to experimentation. The automated control of flow velocity will create more accurate and repeatable data on swimming performance of larval fishes. Integrating refined measurements into individual-based models will support future research on the effects of environmental change.

Item ID: 66114
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2051-1434
Keywords: Automation, CFD, fish larvae, particle tracking, swimming methodology
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press and the Society for Experimental Biology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2021 18:21
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1901 Adaptation to climate change > 190101 Climate change adaptation measures (excl. ecosystem) @ 100%
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