Hydrodynamic aspects of fish olfaction

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Flow into and around the olfactory chamber of a fish determines how odorant from the fish's immediate environment is transported to the sensory surface (olfactory epithelium) lining the chamber. Diffusion times in water are long, even over comparatively short distances (millimetres). Therefore, transport from the external environment to the olfactory epithelium must be controlled by processes that rely on convection (i.e. the bulk flow of fluid). These include the beating of cilia lining the olfactory chamber and the relatively inexpensive pumping action of accessory sacs. Flow through the chamber may also be induced by an external flow. Flow over the olfactory epithelium appears to be laminar. Odorant transfer to the olfactory epithelium may be facilitated in several ways: if the olfactory organs are mounted on stalks that penetrate the boundary layer; by the steep velocity gradients generated by beating cilia; by devices that deflect flow into the olfactory chamber; by parallel arrays of olfactory lamellae; by mechanical agitation of the chamber (or olfactory stalks); and by vortices. Overall, however, our knowledge of the hydrodynamics of fish olfaction is far from complete. Several areas of future research are outlined.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-593
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of The Royal Society Interface
Issue number23
Early online date9 Jan 2008
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2008


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