The role of mechanical resonance in the neural control of swimming in fishes. Academic Article uri icon


  • The bodies of many fishes are flexible, elastic structures; if you bend them, they spring back. Therefore, they should have a resonant frequency: a bending frequency at which the output amplitude is maximized for a particular input. Previous groups have hypothesized that swimming at this resonant frequency could maximize efficiency, and that a neural circuit called the central pattern generator might be able to entrain to a mechanical resonance. However, fishes swim in water, which may potentially damp out many resonant effects. Additionally, their bodies are elongated, which means that bending can occur in complicated ways along the length of the body. We review previous studies of the mechanical properties of fish bodies, and then present new data that demonstrate complex bending properties of elongated fish bodies. Resonant peaks in amplitude exist, but there may be many of them depending on the body wavelength. Additionally, they may not correspond to the maximum swimming speed. Next, we describe experiments using a closed-loop preparation of the lamprey, in which a preparation of the spinal cord is linked to a real-time simulation of the muscle and body properties, allowing us to examine resonance entrainment as we vary the simulated resonant frequency. We find that resonance entrainment does occur, but is rare. Gain had a significant, though weak, effect, and a nonlinear muscle model produced resonance entrainment more often than a linear filter. We speculate that resonance may not be a critical effect for efficient swimming in elongate, anguilliform swimmers, though it may be more important for stiffer carangiform and thunniform fishes.

publication date

  • February 2014