Electrosensory-driven feeding behaviours of the Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) and western shovelnose ray (Aptychotrema vincentiana)

R. M. Kempster*, C. A. Egeberg, N. S. Hart, S. P. Collin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Elasmobranch fishes (sharks, skates and rays) possess a highly sensitive electrosensory system that enables them to detect weak electric fields, such as those produced by potential prey organisms. Despite several comparative anatomical studies, the functional significance of interspecific variation in electrosensory system morphology remains poorly understood. In the present study, we directly tested the electrosensitivity of two benthic elasmobranchs that share a similar habitat and feed on similarly sized prey items (Port Jackson sharks, Heterodontus portusjacksoni, and western shovelnose rays, Aptychotrema vincentiana), but differ significantly in their electrosensory system morphology. Aptychotrema vincentiana possesses almost five times the number of electrosensory pores of H. portusjacksoni (∼1190 and ∼239 respectively), yet both species are able to initiate feeding responses to electric-field gradients below 1 nV cm-1, similar to other elasmobranch species tested. However, A. vincentiana showed a greater ability to resolve the specific location of electrosensory stimuli, because H. portusjacksoni would more often overshoot the target and have to turn around to locate it. These results suggested that differences in abundance and distribution of electrosensory pores have little to no effect on the absolute electrical sensitivity in elasmobranchs, and instead, may reflect species-specific differences in the spatial resolution and directionality of electroreception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-194
Number of pages8
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • ampullae of Lorenzini
  • benthic
  • elasmobranch
  • electroreception
  • resolution
  • sensitivity
  • sensory biology


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