Size structures sensory hierarchy in ocean life

Martens EA, Wadhwa N, Jacobsen NS, Lindemann C, Andersen KH, Visser A, Proc R Soc B 282 (1815) :20151346 (2015).


Survival in aquatic environments requires organisms to have effective means of collecting information from their surroundings through various sensing strategies. In this study, we explore how sensing mode and range depend on body size. We find a hierarchy of sensing modes determined by body size. With increasing body size, a larger battery of modes becomes available (chemosensing, mechanosensing, vision, hearing and echolocation, in that order) while the sensing range also increases. This size-dependent hierarchy and the transitions between primary sensory modes are explained on the grounds of limiting factors set by physiology and the physical laws governing signal generation, transmission and reception. We theoretically predict the body size limits for various sensory modes, which align well with size ranges found in literature. The treatise of all ocean life, from unicellular organisms to whales, demonstrates how body size determines available sensing modes, and thereby acts as a major structuring factor of aquatic life.