New insights from serranid fishes on the role of trade-offs in suction-feeding diversification

Christopher E. Oufiero, Roi A. Holzman, Forrest A. Young, Peter C. Wainwright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Suction feeding is central to prey capture in the vast majority of ray-finned fishes and has been well studied from a detailed, mechanistic perspective. Several major trade-offs are thought to have shaped the diversification of suction-feeding morphology and behavior, and have become well established in the literature. We revisited several of these expectations in a study of prey capture morphology and kinematics in 30 species of serranid fishes, a large, ecologically variable group that exhibits diverse combinations of suction and forward locomotion. We find that: (1) diversity among species in the morphological potential to generate suction changes drastically across the range of attack speeds that species use, with all species that use high-speed attacks having low capacity to generate suction, whereas slow-speed attackers exhibit the full range of suction abilities (this pattern indicates a more complex 'ram-suction continuum' than previously recognized); (2) there is no trade-off between the mechanical advantage of the lower jaw opening lever and the speed of jaw depression, revealing that this simple interpretation of lever mechanics fails to predict kinematic diversity; (3) high-speed attackers show increased cranial excursions, potentially to compensate for a decrease in accuracy; (4) the amount of jaw protrusion is positively related to attack speed, but not suction capacity; and (5) a principal component analysis revealed three significant multivariate axes of kinematic variation among species. Two of the three axes were correlated with the morphological potential to generate suction, indicating important but complex relationships between kinematics and suction potential. These results are consistent with other recent studies that show that trade-offs derived from simple biomechanical models may be less of a constraint on the evolutionary diversification of fish feeding systems than previously thought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3845-3855
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cranial kinematics
  • Ram speed
  • Serranidae
  • Suction feeding
  • Trade-off


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