Variability of rheotaxis behaviors in larval bullfrogs highlights species diversity in lateral line function

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Abstract

The morphology and distribution of lateral line neuromasts vary between ecomorphological types of anuran tadpoles, but little is known about how this structural variability contributes to differences in lateral-line mediated behaviors. Previous research identified distinct differences in one such behavior, positive rheotaxis towards the source of a flow, in two tadpole species, the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis; type 1) and the American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana; type 4). Because these two species had been tested under different flow conditions, we re-evaluated these findings by quantifying flow-sensing behaviors of bullfrog tadpoles in the same flow field in which X. laevis tadpoles had been tested previously. Early larval bullfrog tadpoles were exposed to flow in the dark, in the presence of a discrete light cue, and after treatment with the ototoxin gentamicin. In response to flow, tadpoles moved downstream, closer to a side wall, and higher in the water column, but they did not station-hold. Tadpoles exhibited positive rheotaxis, but with long latencies, low to moderate accuracy, and considerable individual variability. This is in contrast to the robust, stereotyped station-holding and accurate rheotaxis of X. laevis tadpoles. The presence of a discrete visual cue and gentamicin treatment altered spatial positioning and disrupted rheotaxis in both tadpole species. Species differences in lateral-line mediated behaviors may reflect differences in neuromast number and distribution, life history, or perceptual salience of other environmental cues.

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Brown, E. E. A., & Simmons, A. M. (2016). Variability of rheotaxis behaviors in larval bullfrogs highlights species diversity in lateral line function. PLoS ONE, 11(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166989

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