Swimming and Defence: Competing Needs Across Ontogeny in Armoured Fishes (Agonidae)

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Biological armours are potent model systems for understanding the complex series of competing demands on protective exoskeletons; after all, armoured organisms are the product of millions of years of refined engineering under the harshest conditions. Fishes are no strangers to armour, with various types of armour plating common to the 400–500 Myr of evolution in both jawed and jawless fishes. Here, we focus on the poachers (Agonidae), a family of armoured fishes native to temperate waters of the Pacific rim. We examined armour morphology, body stiffness and swimming performance in the northern spearnose poacher (Agonopsis vulsa) over ontogeny. As juveniles, these fishes make frequent nocturnal forays into the water column in search of food, while heavily armoured adults are bound to the benthos. Most armour dimensions and density increase with body length, as does body stiffness. Juvenile poachers have enlarged spines on their armour whereas adults invest more mineral in armour plate bases. Adults are stiffer and accelerate faster than juveniles with an anguilliform swimming mode. Subadults more closely approximate adults more than smaller juveniles, with regards to both swimming and armour mechanics. Poacher armour serves multiple functions over ontogeny, from facilitating locomotion, slowing sinking and providing defence.


This article was originally published in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, volume 17, in 2020. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2020.0301


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