Fast-start escape performances for two species of threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus spp., were investigated using high-speed cinematography (400 Hz). The two fishes (not yet formally described, referred to here as benthic and limnetic) inhabit different niches within Paxton Lake, British Columbia, Canada, and are recent, morphologically distinct species. All escape responses observed for both species were double-bend C-type fast-starts. There were no significant differences between the species for any linear or angular parameter (pooled averages, both species: duration 0.048 s, distance 0.033 m, maximum velocity 1.10 m s-1, maximum acceleration 137 m s-2, maximum horizontal angular velocity 473.6 rad s-1 and maximum overall angular velocity 511.1 rad s-1). Benthics and limnetics have the greatest added mass (Ma) at 0.3 and 0.6 body lengths, respectively. The maximum Ma does not include the fins for benthics, but for limnetics the dorsal and anal fins contribute greatly to the maximum Ma. The deep, posteriorly placed fins of limnetics enable them to have a fast-start performance equivalent to that of the deeper-bodied benthics. Both the limnetic and benthic fishes have significantly higher escape fast-start velocities than their ancestral form, the anadromous threespine stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus, suggesting that the high performance of the Paxton Lake sticklebacks is an evolutionarily derived trait. In this biomechanical study of functional morphology, we demonstrate that similar high fast-start performance can be achieved by different suites of morphological characteristics and suggest that predation might be the selective force for the high escape performance in these two fishes.
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