Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 201–212 | Cite as

Do viscous forces affect survival of marine fish larvae? Revisiting the ‘safe harbour’ hypothesis

Research Paper


Aquatic organisms physically interact with the water that surrounds them, and this interaction is fundamental in shaping many aspects of their biology. General characteristics of the hydrodynamic interactions between organisms and the flow around them can be captured by the dimensionless Reynolds number (Re), depicting the ratio between inertial and viscous forces operating on the organism. The characteristic flow regime of larval fish that cruise at slow speeds is a regime of low Re, where viscous forces dominate. In this study, we experimentally test the ‘safe harbour’ hypothesis, which proposes that increasing larval body size facilitates an ‘escape’ from the detrimental effects of low Re. Larval gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) were reared during early ontogeny under artificially manipulated water viscosities to expose larvae to low Re regimes. Larval survival decreased significantly with increasing water viscosity, and increased with increasing standard length. Surviving larvae exceeded the mean length of mortalities by ~1 mm, on average. Our findings provide direct experimental support for the ‘safe harbour’ hypothesis, indicating that marine larvae incur a fitness cost when operating under low Re conditions. Moreover, the results highlight the need to recognize the hydrodynamic environment when considering the a-biotic characteristics that may influence organismal performance and fitness.


Feeding Foraging Hydrodynamic starvation Morphology Sparus aurata Swimming 



We thank ARDAG Red Sea Mariculture Ltd. for providing seabream larvae, T. Gurevich for her laboratory assistance, O. Mann for his assistance with statistical analysis, and M. Ohevia for his technical help. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper. This study was supported by European Union Seventh Framework Programme IRG SFHaBiLF and the Israel Science Foundation grant numbers 158/11 and 695/15. SY was supported by the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences (Eilat) in the form of a Shoshana Fidler Post Doctoral Fellowship, and by Tel Aviv University in the form of a George S. Wise Post Doctoral Fellowship.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Ethical standards

The experimental protocol followed the IACUC-approved ethical guidelines, and was approved by the Hebrew University Committee for Animal Care and Use (protocol NS-12-13338-2).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Faculty of Life SciencesTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  2. 2.Interuniversity Institute for Marine SciencesEilatIsrael

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