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The functional roles of passive electroreception in non-electric fishes

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For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Netherlands Journal of Zoology (Vol 18-52).

Passive electroreception is a complex and specialised sense found in a large range of aquatic vertebrates primarily designed for the detection of weak bioelectric fields. Particular attention has traditionally focused on cartilaginous fishes, but a range of teleost and non-teleost fishes from a diversity of habitats have also been examined. As more species are investigated, it has become apparent that the role of electroreception in fishes is not restricted to locating prey, but is utilised in other complex behaviours. This paper presents the various functional roles of passive electroreception in non-electric fishes, by reviewing much of the recent research on the detection of prey in the context of differences in species' habitat (shallow water, deep-sea, freshwater and saltwater). A special case study on the distribution and neural groupings of ampullary organs in the omnihaline bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, is also presented and reveals that prey-capture, rather than navigation, may be an important determinant of pore distribution. The discrimination between potential predators and conspecifics and the role of bioelectric stimuli in social behaviour is discussed, as is the ability to migrate over short or long distances in order to locate environmentally favourable conditions. The various theories proposed regarding the importance and mediation of geomagnetic orientation by either an electroreceptive and/or a magnetite-based sensory system receives particular attention. The importance of electroreception to many species is emphasised by highlighting what still remains to be investigated, especially with respect to the physical, biochemical and neural properties of the ampullary organs and the signals that give rise to the large range of observed behaviours.

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