The aim of this study was to evaluate how fish locomote at different muscle temperatures. Sarcomere length excursion and muscle shortening velocity, V, were determined from high-speed motion pictures of carp, Cyprinus carpio (11–14 cm), swimming steadily at various sustained speeds at 10, 15 and 20°C. In the middle and posterior regions of the carp, sarcomeres of the lateral red muscle underwent cyclical excursions of 0.31 μm, centred around the resting length of 2.06 μm (i.e. from 1.91 to 2.22 μm). The amplitudes of the sarcomere length excursions were essentially independent of swimming speed and temperature. As tail-beat frequency increased linearly with swimming speed regardless of temperature, the sarcomeres underwent the same length changes in a shorter time. Thus, V increased in a linear and temperature-independent manner with swimming speed. Neither temperature nor swimming speed had an influence on tail-beat amplitude or tail height.

Our findings indicate that muscle fibres are used only over a narrow, temperature-independent range of V/Vmax (0.17-0.36) where power and efficiency are maximal. Carp start to recruit their white muscles at swimming speeds where the red muscle V/Vmax becomes too high (and thus power output declines). When the V/Vmax of the active muscle falls too low during steady swimming, carp switch to ‘burst-and-coast’ swimming, apparently to keep V/Vmax high. Because Vmax (maximum velocity of shortening) of carp red muscle has a Q10 of 1.63, the transition speeds between swimming styles are lower at lower temperatures. Thus, carp recruit their white anaerobic muscle at a lower swimming speed at lower temperatures (verified by electromyography), resulting in a lower maximum sustainable swimming speed. The present findings also indicate that, to generate the same total force and power to swim at a given speed, carp at 10°C must recruit about 50% greater fibre cross-sectional area than they do at 20°C.


Present address: Department of Plant Molecular Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.

Present address: Department of Pure and Applied Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, England.

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