Marine Biology

, Volume 158, Issue 1, pp 1–8 | Cite as

The ability of a benthic elasmobranch to discriminate between biological and artificial electric fields

  • Joel A. KimberEmail author
  • David W. Sims
  • Patricia H. Bellamy
  • Andrew B. Gill
Original Paper


To investigate the ability of elasmobranchs to distinguish between differing prey-type electric fields we examined the electroreceptive foraging behaviour of a model species, Scyliorhinus canicula (small-spotted catshark). Catshark preferences were studied by behaviourally conditioning them to swim through narrow tunnels, and on exit presenting them simultaneously with two different electric fields. Their subsequent choices of the following paired options were recorded; (i) Two artificial electric fields (dipole electrodes) with different magnitude direct current (D.C.), (ii) Two artificial electric fields, one D.C. and the other alternating current (A.C.), of the same magnitude, and (iii) similar magnitude, natural and artificial D.C. electric fields associated with shore crabs and dipole electrodes respectively. We found a highly significant preference for the stronger D.C. electric field and a less pronounced, but still significant, preference for the A.C. electric field rather than the D.C. electric field. No preference was demonstrated between the artificial and natural D.C. electric fields. The findings are discussed in relation to the animal’s diet and ecology and with regard to anthropogenic sources of electric fields within their habitat.


Shore Crab Marine Biological Association Acrylic Sheet Active Electrolocation Injured Prey 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank N. Bloomer for assistance with electronics, J. Rundle for animal husbandry, K. Atkins for aquaria assistance, I. Gilson at Spartech for construction of dividers, tunnels and chamber moulds, M. Hall for advice on use of agar, P. Rendle, P. Masterson, M. McHugh, J. Filer, V. Wearmouth, and the crew of RV Plymouth Quest for assistance with specimen collection, and C. Brownlee for use of electronics equipment. We also thank the anonymous reviewers and editor for their comments. JAK was supported by a Fisheries Society of the British Isles funded studentship and by Cranfield University. DWS was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded Marine Biological Association (MBA) Fellowship and by the NERC Oceans 2025 Strategic Research Programme (Theme 6 Science for Sustainable Marine Resources). All experiments comply with the current law of the United Kingdom.


  1. Aronson LR, Aronson FR, Clark E (1967) Instrumental conditioning and light-dark discrimination in young nurse sharks. Bull Mar Sci 17:249–256Google Scholar
  2. Baldwin BA, Start IB (1981) Sensory reinforcement and illumination preference in sheep and calves. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 211:513–526CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blonder BI, Alevizon WS (1988) Prey discrimination and electroreception in the stingray Dasyatis sabina. Copeia 1:33–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Castellano S, Rosso A, Giacoma C (2004) Active choice, passive attraction and the cognitive machinery of acoustic preferences. Anim Behav 68:323–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies (CMACS) (2003) A baseline assessment of electromagnetic fields generated by offshore wind farm cables (COWRIE Stage 1), COWRIE-EMF-01-2002Google Scholar
  6. Clark E (1961) Visual discrimination in lemon sharks tenth Pacific science congress. Honolulu, pp 175–176Google Scholar
  7. Collins SA (1999) Is female preference for male repertoires due to sensory bias? Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 266:2309–2314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dijkgraaf S, Kalmijn AJ (1962) Verhaltungsversuche zur funktion der Lorenzinischen ampullen. Naturwissenschaften 49:400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dill LM (1983) Adaptive flexibility in the foraging behavior of fishes. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 40:398–408Google Scholar
  10. Dyer AG, Whitney HM, Arnold SEJ, Glover BJ, Chittka L (2006) Bees associate warmth with floral colour. Nature 442:525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gill AB, Hart PJB (1994) Feeding behaviour and prey choice of the threespine stickleback: the interacting effects of prey size, fish size and stomach fullness. Anim Behav 47:921–932CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gill AB, Hart PJB (1999) Dynamic changes in prey choice by stickleback during simultaneous encounter with large prey. J Fish Biol 55:1317–1327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gill AB, Kimber JA (2005) The potential for cooperative management of elasmobranchs and offshore renewable energy development in UK waters. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 85:1075–1081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gill AB, Huang Y, Gloyne-Phillips I, Metcalfe J, Quayle V, Spencer J, Wearmouth V (2009) Electromagnetic fields final report (COWRIE 2.0), COWRIE-EMF-01-06Google Scholar
  15. Graff C, Kaminski G, Gresty M, Ohlmann T (2004) Fish perform spatial pattern recognition and abstraction by exclusive use of active electrolocation. Curr Biol 14:818–823CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Haine OS, Ridd PV, Rowe RJ (2001) Range of electrosensory detection of prey by Carcharhinus melanopterus and Himantura granulata. Mar Freshw Res 52:291–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kaiser MJ, Westhead AP, Hughes RN, Gibson RN (1992) Are digestive characteristics important contributors to the profitability of prey? A study of diet selection in the fifteen-spined stickleback, Spinachia spinachia (L.). Oecologia 90:61–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kalmijn AJ (1971) The electric sense of sharks and rays. J Exp Biol 55:371–383Google Scholar
  19. Kalmijn AJ (1972) Bioelectric fields in sea water and the function of the ampullaoe of Lorenzini in elasmobranch fishes. SIO Ref Ser 2:1–21Google Scholar
  20. Kalmijn AJ (1974) The detection of electric fields from inanimate and animate sources other than electric organs. In: Fessard A (ed) Electroreceptors and other specialized receptors in lower vertebrates. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Kalmijn AJ (1982) Electric and magnetic field detection in elasmobranch fishes. Science 218:916–918CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kimber JA, Sims DW, Bellamy PH, Gill AB (2009) Male-female interactions affect foraging behaviour within groups of small-spotted catshark, Scyliorhinus canicula. Anim Behav 77:1435–1440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kraus JD, Fleisch DA (1999) Electromagnetics with applications. McGraw-Hill International Editions, SingaporeGoogle Scholar
  24. LaBas NR, Marshall NJ (2000) The role of colour in signalling and male choice in the agamid lizard Ctenophorus ornatus. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 267:445–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lenth RV (2001) Some practical guidelines for effective sample size determination. Am Stat 55:187–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lyle JM (1983) Food and feeding habits of the lesser spotted dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula (L.), in Isle of Man waters. J Fish Biol 23:725–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Modarressie R, Rick IP, Bakker TC (2006) UV matters in shoaling decisions. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 273:849–854CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rogers SI, Ellis JR (2000) Changes in the demersal fish assemblages of British coastal waters during the 20th century. ICES J Mar Sci 57:866–881CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rogers SI, Rijnsdorp AD, Damm U, Vanhee W (1998) Demersal fish populations in the coastal waters of the UK and continental NW Europe from beam trawl survey data collected from 1990 to 1995. J Sea Res 39:79–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sims DW, Davies SJ (1994) Does specific dynamic action (SDA) regulate return of appetite in the lesser spotted dogfish, Scyliorhinus canicula? J Fish Biol 45:341–348Google Scholar
  31. Sims DW, Wearmouth VJ, Southall EJ, Hill JM, Moore P, Rawlinson K, Hutchinson N, Budd GC, Righton D, Metcalfe J, Nash JP, Morritt D (2006) Hunt warm, rest cool: bioenergetic strategy underlying diel vertical migration of a benthic shark. J Anim Ecol 75:176–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Snyder B, Kaiser MJ (2009) A comparison of offshore wind power energy in Europe and the US: patterns and drivers of development. Appl Energy 86:1845–1856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stephens DW, Krebs JR (1986) Foraging theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  34. Strong WR (1996) Shape discrimination and visual predatory tactics in white sharks. In: Klimley AJ, Ainley DG (eds) Great white sharks: the biology of Carcharodon carcharias. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 229–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sutherland WJ, Bailey MJ, Bainbridge IP, Brereton T, Dick JTA, Drewitt J, Gilder PM, Green RE, Heathwaite AL, Johnson SM, MacDonald DW, Mitchell R, Osborn D, Owen RP, Pretty J, Prior SV, Prosser H, Pullin AS, Rose P, Stott A, Tew T, Thomas CD, Thompson DBA, Vickery JA, Walker M, Walmsley C, Warrington S, Watkinson AR, Williams RJ, Woodroffe R, Woodroof HJ (2008) Future novel threats and opportunities facing UK biodiversity identified by horizon scanning. J Appl Ecol 45:821–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tricas TC (1982) Bioelectric-mediated predation by swell sharks, Cephaloscyllium ventriosum. Copeia 4:948–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tricas TC, New JG (1998) Sensitivity and response dynamics of elasmobranch electrosensory primary afferent neurons to near threshold fields. J Comp Physiol A 182:89–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tricas TC, Sisneros JA (2004) Ecological functions and adaptations of the elasmobranch electrosense. In: von der Emde G, Mogdans J, Kapoor BG (eds) The senses of fishes: adaptations for the reception of natural stimuli. Narosa Publishing House, New Delhi, India, pp 308–329Google Scholar
  39. von der Emde G (1990) Discrimination of objects through electrolocation in the weakly electric fish, Gnathonemus petersii. J Comp Physiol A 167:413–421Google Scholar
  40. Wallman HL, Bennet WA (2006) Effects of parturition and feeding on thermal preference of Atlantic stingrays (Dasyatis sabina (Lesuer). Environ Biol Fish 75:259–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wearmouth VJ, Sims DW (2008) Sexual segregation behaviour of marine fish, reptiles, birds and mammals: patterns, mechanisms and conservation implications. Adv Mar Biol 54:107–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Yano K, Mori H, Minamikawa K, Ueno S, Uchida S, Nagai K, Toda M, Masuda M (2000) Behavioural response of sharks to electric stimulation. Bull Seikai Natl Fish Res Inst 78:13–29Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel A. Kimber
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • David W. Sims
    • 2
    • 3
  • Patricia H. Bellamy
    • 1
  • Andrew B. Gill
    • 1
  1. 1.Ecosystem Function Group, Department of Natural ResourcesCranfield UniversityCranfieldUK
  2. 2.Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, The LaboratoryPlymouthUK
  3. 3.Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK

Personalised recommendations