Hydrodynamic starvation in first-feeding larval fishes

Victor China, Roi Holzman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Larval fishes suffer prodigious mortality rates, eliminating 99% of the brood within a few days after first feeding. Hjort (1914) famously attributed this "critical period" of low survival to the larvae's inability to obtain sufficient food [Hjort (1914) Rapp P-v Réun Cons Int Explor Mer 20:1-228]. However, the cause of this poor feeding success remains to be identified. Here, we show that hydrodynamic constraints on the ubiquitous suction mechanism in first-feeding larvae limit their ability to capture prey, thereby reducing their feeding rates. Dynamic-scaling experiments revealed that larval size is the primary determinant of feeding rate, independent of other ontogenetic effects. We conclude that first-feeding larvae experience "hydrodynamic starvation," in which low Reynolds numbers mechanistically limit their feeding performance even under high prey densities. Our results provide a hydrodynamic perspective on feeding of larval fishes that focuses on the physical properties of the larvae and prey, rather than on prey concentration and the rate of encounters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8083-8088
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number22
StatePublished - 3 Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Larval ecology
  • Stable ocean hypothesis
  • Suction feeding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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