Orientation of animals using chemical cues often takes place in flows, where the stimulus properties of odorants are affected by the characteristics of fluid motion. Kinematic analysis of movement patterns by animals responding to odor plumes has been used to provide insight into the behavioral and physiological aspects of olfactory-mediated orientation, particularly in terrestrial insects. We have used this approach in analyzing predatory searching by blue crabs in response to plumes of attractant metabolites released from the siphons of live clams in controlled hydrodynamic environments. Crabs proceed directly upstream towards clams in smooth-turbulent flows and show high locomotory velocities and few periods of motionlessness. Crabs assume more indirect trajectories and display slower locomotion and more stopping in rough-turbulent flows. This degradation of foraging performance is most pronounced as flow shifts from a smooth- to a rough-turbulent regime, where the change in hydraulic properties is associated with contraction of the viscous sublayer region of the boundary layer. Because flow in this region is quasilaminar, the viscous sublayer may be a particularly effective vehicle for chemical stimulus transmission, such that orientation is severely compromised when it is reduced or removed. Our results also suggest that rheotactic and chemical information are both necessary for successful orientation. Perception of chemical cues acts to bias locomotion upcurrent, and feedback from odorant stimulus distributions appears directly to regulate subsequent stopping and turning en route to prey. Although the mechanisms of orientation to odorant plumes displayed by insects and blue crabs are largely similar, blue crabs appear to rely more heavily on spatial and/or temporal aspects of chemical stimulus distributions than has been suggested for insect systems.

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