• cyprinids;
  • evolution;
  • flow regime;
  • locomotor performance;
  • trade-off


Flow regimes are believed to be of major evolutionary significance in fish. The flow regimes inhabited by cyprinids vary extensively from still flow regimes to riptide flow regimes. To test (i) whether flow-driven swimming performance and relevant morphological differentiation are present among fish species and (ii) whether evolutionary shifts between high-flow and low-flow habitats in cyprinids are associated with evolutionary trade-offs in locomotor performance, we obtained data on both steady and unsteady swimming performance and external body shape for 19 species of cyprinids that typically occur in different flow regimes (still, intermediate and riptide). We also measured the routine energy expenditure (RMR) and maximum metabolic rate (MMR) and calculated the optimal swimming speed. Our results showed that fish species from riptide groups tend to have a higher critical swimming speed (Ucrit), maximum linear velocity (Vmax) and fineness ratio (FR) than fish from the other two groups. However, there was no correlation between the reconstructed changes in the steady and unsteady swimming performance of the 19 species. According to the phylogenetically independent contrast (PIC) method, the Ucrit was actively correlated with the MMR. These results indicated that selection will favour both higher steady and unsteady swimming performance and a more streamlined body shape in environments with high water velocities. The results suggested that steady swimming performance was more sensitive to the flow regime and that for this reason, changes in body shape resulted more from selective pressure on steady swimming performance than on unsteady swimming performance. No evolutionary trade-off was observed between steady and unsteady swimming performance, although Ucrit and MMR were found to have coevolved. However, a further analysis within each typically occurring habitat group suggested that the trade-off that may exist between steady and unsteady swimming performance may be concealed by the effect of habitat.