[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the aquatic environment, living organisms emit weak dipole electric fields, which spread in the surrounding water. Elasmobranchs detect these dipole electric fields with their highly sensitive electroreceptors, the ampullae of Lorenzini. Freshwater sawfish, Pristis microdon, and two species of shovelnose rays, Glaucostegus typus and Aptychotrema rostrata were tested for their reactions towards weak artificial electric dipole fields. The comparison of sawfishes and shovelnose rays sheds light on the evolution and function of the elongated rostrum ('saw') of sawfish, as both groups evolved from a shovelnose ray-like ancestor. Electric stimuli were presented both on the substrate (to mimic benthic prey) and suspended in the water column (to mimic free-swimming prey). Analysis of around 480 behavioural sequences shows that all three species are highly sensitive towards weak electric dipole fields, and initiate behavioural responses at median field strengths between 5.15 and 79.6 nV cm(-1). The response behaviours used by sawfish and shovelnose rays depended on the location of the dipoles. The elongation of the sawfish's rostrum clearly expanded their electroreceptive search area into the water column and enables them to target free-swimming prey.
PLoS ONE 07/2012; 7(7):e41605. · 3.53 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Jawed fishes that possess an elongated rostrum use it to either sense prey or to manipulate it, but not for both. The billfish rostrum, for instance, lacks any sensory function and is used to stun prey , while paddlefishes use their rostrum to detect and orient towards electric fields of plankton . Sturgeons search through the substrate with their electroreceptive rostrum, and engulf prey by oral suction . Here, we show that juvenile freshwater sawfish Pristis microdon are active predators that use their toothed rostrum - the saw - to both sense prey-simulating electric fields and capture prey. Prey encountered in the water column is attacked with lateral swipes of the saw that can stun and/or impale it. We compare sawfish to shovelnose rays, which share a common shovelnose ray-like ancestor  and lack a saw.
Current biology: CB 03/2012; 22(5):R150-1. · 10.99 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The distribution and density of the ampullary electroreceptors in the skin of elasmobranchs are influenced by the phylogeny and ecology of a species. Sensory maps were created for 4 species of pristid sawfish. Their ampullary pores were separated into pore fields based on their innervation and cluster formation. Ventrally, ampullary pores are located in 6 areas (5 in Pristis microdon), covering the rostrum and head to the gills. Dorsally, pores are located in 4 areas (3 in P. microdon), which cover the rostrum, head and may extend slightly onto the pectoral fins. In all species, the highest number of pores is found on the dorsal and ventral sides of the rostrum. The high densities of pores along the rostrum combined with the low densities around the mouth could indicate that sawfish use their rostrum to stun their prey before ingesting it, but this hypothesis remains to be tested. The directions of ampullary canals on the ventral side of the rostrum are species specific. P. microdon possesses the highest number of ampullary pores, which indicates that amongst the study species this species is an electroreception specialist. As such, juvenile P. microdon inhabit low-visibility freshwater habitats.
Brain Behavior and Evolution 08/2011; 78(2):139-49. · 2.89 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The lateral line system allows elasmobranchs to detect hydrodynamic movements in their close surroundings. We examined the distribution of pit organs and lateral line canals in 4 species of sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata, Pristis microdon, P. clavata and P. zijsron). Pit organs could only be located in A. cuspidata, which possesses elongated pits that are lined by dermal denticles. In all 4 pristid species, the lateral line canals are well developed and were separated into regions of pored and non-pored canals. In all species the tubules that extend from pored canals form extensive networks. In A. cuspidata, P. microdon and P. clavata, the lateral line canals on both the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the rostrum possess extensively branched and pored tubules. Based on this morphological observation, we hypothesized that these 3 species do not use their rostrum to search in the substrate for prey as previously assumed. Other batoids that possess lateral line canals adapted to perceive stimuli produced by infaunal prey possess non-pored lateral line canals, which also prevent the intrusion of substrate particles. However, this hypothesis remains to be tested behaviourally in pristids. Lateral line canals located between the mouth and the nostrils are non-pored in all 4 species of sawfish. Thus this region is hypothesized to perceive stimuli caused by direct contact with prey before ingestion. Lateral line canals that contain neuromasts are longest in P. microdon, but canals containing neuromasts along the rostrum are longest in A. cuspidata.
Brain Behavior and Evolution 08/2011; 78(2):150-61. · 2.89 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Sclerorhynchids (extinct sawfishes, Batoidea), pristids (extant sawfish, Batoidea) and pristiophorids (sawsharks, Squalomorphi) are the three elasmobranch families that possess an elongated rostrum with lateral teeth. Sclerorhynchids are the extinct sawfishes of the Cretaceous period, which reached maximum total lengths of 100 cm. The morphology of their rostral teeth is highly variable. Pristid sawfish occur circumtropically and can reach maximum total lengths of around 700 cm. All pristid species are globally endangered due to their restricted habitat inshore. Pristiophorid sawsharks are small sharks of maximum total lengths below 150 cm, which occur in depths of 70–900 m. Close examination of the morphology of pectoral fin basals and the internal structure of the rostrum reveals that sclerorhynchids and pristids evolved independently from rhinobatids, whereas pristiophorids are squalomorph sharks. The elongation of the rostrum may be an adaptation for feeding, as all marine vertebrate taxa that possess this structure are said to use it in the context of feeding.
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 05/2009; 19:445-464. · 2.56 Impact Factor