Behavioral and physiological adaptations to high-flow velocities in chubs (Gila spp.) native to Southwestern USA

Clinton J. Moran, Shannon P. Gerry, Matthew W. O’Neill, Caroline L. Rzucidlo, Alice C. Gibb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Morphological streamlining is often associated with physiological advantages for steady swimming in fishes. Though most commonly studied in pelagic fishes, streamlining also occurs in fishes that occupy high-flow environments. Before the installation of dams and water diversions, bonytail (Cyprinidae, Gila elegans), a fish endemic to the Colorado River (USA), regularly experienced massive, seasonal flooding events. Individuals of G. elegans display morphological characteristics that may facilitate swimming in high-flow conditions, including a narrow caudal peduncle and a high aspect ratio caudal fin. We tested the hypothesis that these features improve sustained swimming performance in bonytail by comparing locomotor performance in G. elegans with that of the closely related roundtail chub (Gila robusta) and two non-native species, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), using a Brett-style respirometer and locomotor step-tests. Gila elegans had the lowest estimated drag coefficient and the highest sustained swimming speeds relative to the other three species. There were no detectible differences in locomotor energetics during steady swimming among the four species. When challenged by high-velocity water flows, the second native species examined in this study, G. robusta, exploited the boundary effects in the flow tank by pitching forward and bracing the pelvic and pectoral fins against the acrylic tank bottom to ‘hold station’. Because G. robusta can station hold to prevent being swept downstream during high flows and G. elegans can maintain swimming speeds greater than those of smallmouth bass and rainbow trout with comparable metabolic costs, we suggest that management agencies could use artificial flooding events to wash non-native competitors downstream and out of the Colorado River habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb158972
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Caudal peduncle
  • Colorado River
  • Endemism
  • Gila robusta
  • Native
  • Swimming performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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