The relationship between pectoral fin ray stiffness and swimming behavior in Labridae: insights into design, performance and ecology. Academic Article uri icon


  • The functional capabilities of flexible, propulsive appendages are directly influenced by their mechanical properties. The fins of fishes have undergone extraordinary evolutionary diversification in structure and function, which raises questions of how fin mechanics relate to swimming behavior. In the fish family Labridae, pectoral fin swimming behavior ranges from rowing to flapping. Rowers are more maneuverable than flappers, but flappers generate greater thrust at high speeds and achieve greater mechanical efficiency at all speeds. Interspecific differences in hydrodynamic capability are largely dependent on fin kinematics and deformation, and are expected to correlate with fin stiffness. Here we examine fin ray stiffness in two closely related species that employ divergent swimming behaviors, the flapping Gomphosus varius and the rowing Halichoeres bivittatus To determine the spatial distribution of flexural stiffness across the fin, we performed three-point bending tests at the center of the proximal, middle and distal regions of four equally spaced fin rays. Pectoral fin ray flexural stiffness ranged from 0.0001 to 1.5109 µN m2, and the proximal regions of G. varius fin rays were nearly an order of magnitude stiffer than those of H. bivittatus In both species, fin ray flexural stiffness decreased exponentially along the proximodistal span of fin rays, and flexural stiffness decreased along the fin chord from the leading to the trailing edge. Furthermore, the proportion of fin area occupied by fin rays was significantly greater in G. varius than in H. bivittatus, suggesting that the proportion of fin ray to fin area contributes to differences in fin mechanics.

publication date

  • January 9, 2018