Metabolically important traits, such as gill surface area and metabolic rate, underpin life histories, population dynamics and extinction risk, as they govern the availability of energy for growth, survival and reproduction. Estimating both gill surface area and metabolic rate can be challenging, especially when working with large-bodied, threatened species. Ideally, these traits, and respiratory physiology in general, could be inferred from external morphology using a faster, non-lethal method. Gill slit height is quick to measure on live organisms and is anatomically connected to the gill arch. Here, we relate gill slit height and gill surface area for five Carcharhiniform sharks. We compared both total and parabranchial gill surface area to mean and individual gill slit height in physical specimens. We also compared empirical measurements of relative gill slit height (i.e. in proportion to total length) to those estimated from field guide illustrations to examine the potential of using anatomical drawings to measure gill slit height. We find strong positive relationships between gill slit height and gill surface area at two scales: (i) for total gill surface area and mean gill slit height across species and (ii) for parabranchial gill surface area and individual gill slit height within and across species. We also find that gill slit height is a consistent proportion of the fork length of physical specimens. Consequently, relative gill slit height measured from field guide illustrations proved to be surprisingly comparable to those measured from physical specimens. While the generality of our findings needs to be evaluated across a wider range of taxonomy and ecological lifestyles, they offer the opportunity that we might only need to go to the library and measure field guide illustrations to yield a non-lethal, first-order approximation of the respiratory physiology of sharks.
VanderWright, W. J., Bigman, J. S., Elcombe, C. F., & Dulvy, N. K. (2020). Gill slits provide a window into the respiratory physiology of sharks. Conservation Physiology, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coaa102.
Gill Slits Provide a Window into the Respiratory Physiology of Sharks
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