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Speed, Endurance and Performance Factor into Fish Olympics

Speed, Endurance and Performance Factor into Fish Olympics
Researchers conduct "races" to test the swimming speed of red drum. Photo credit: Andrew Esbaugh.

The Winter Olympics — a fantastic competition that tests the limits of human performance in a variety of sports — bears a close resemblance to some events underway on the Texas Gulf Coast where, at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, researchers are testing the limits of fish. They may not win a gold medal, but the scores in these games can reveal which fish are most likely to succeed in the game of life.

In a test of speed, Corinne Burns, a graduate student in Dr. Lee Fuiman's lab, measured the performance of young flounder. She found that how quickly they swam and how likely they were to dash away from a predator depended upon the amount of omega-3 fatty acids they were able to store in their body. For example, when the omega-3s were low, the little flounder responded to an artificial predator less than 40% of the time. But when they had plenty of omega-3s, they responded more than 60% of the time.


Some researchers use a "fish treadmill." The treadmill isn't used to train the fish for competition, but it is used to test their limits. Researchers in assistant professor Andrew Esbaugh's lab have a swim tunnel that can put fish through their paces. This swim tunnel allows the researchers to change the temperature of the water and measure how temperature affects oxygen consumption. The temperature of the water can have a drastic impact on how much oxygen fish are able to absorb. This research is helping scientists better understand how fish can survive in dead zones like the one that forms during summer off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.


In a race against each other and the clock, researchers in the Esbaugh lab are also interested in swim performance of red drum when exposed to oil. They are essentially creating a race between fish exposed to oil and fish that are not, and the fish exposed to oil often lose. Researchers have discovered that oil exposure can severely impair cardiorespiratory function, therein affecting the swim performance of larval fish. They've found that these fish exposed to oil swim more slowly and just don't have the same capacity to repay oxygen debt following exhaustive exercise.

Just as in humans, fitness in fish can change their life span and how they perform in their watery world. The research and competitions occurring in the University of Texas Marine Science Institute's laboratories are helping to shed light on the limits of fish and how they survive under different conditions.

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By Sally Palmer, communications coordinator for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute.

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Monday, 24 September 2018

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