Chemosensory assessment of predation risk by fishes : ecological and social factors affecting learning and use of heterospecific alarm cues
Pollock, Michael Shawn
Throughout their lives, prey organisms must balance the tradeoff between fitness-related activities and the risk of predation. To successfully mediate such tradeoffs, prey must have an accurate method to gauge current predation risk. For many aquatic organisms, the use of chemosensory information has been shown to be a ubiquitous and useful tool in mediating predation risk. The chemical cues to which aquatic organisms respond include the odour of known predators and the odour of a damaged conspecific or known or closely related heterospecific. In fishes, the response to damage-released cues from conspecifics or closely related heterospecifics has been shown to be innate, while the response to distantly related unknown heterospecific cues are likely learned. In a series of laboratory and field studies I examined the role of learning in the ability of fathead minnows to respond to damage-released cues of brook stickleback as an indication of predation risk. My results indicate that minnows from a population without stickleback do not recognize stickleback cues as dangerous. However, following the introduction of stickleback, minnows learn to recognize stickleback cues as dangerous. Further study indicated a low ratio of stickleback to minnows in a given population will decrease the likelihood of learning when compared with a similar sized population containing a higher ratio of stickleback to minnows. I also demonstrated that an increase in habitat complexity decreases the ability of minnows to learn to recognize stickleback cues. Studies have further demonstrated that in the face of predation (as indicated by chemical cues from minnows and stickleback) minnows will decrease their antipredator response when in the presence of a fish shoal, especially a shoal of conspecifics. Finally, an examination of the effects of a minnow’s length, body condition and breeding status indicate that morphological parameters can play a significant role in the intensity of response to heterospecific and conspecific damage-released cues. Previous works have demonstrated that behavioural responses to heterospecific damage-released cues increase the probability of the ‘receiver’ surviving a predation event. This has important implications for predator/prey interactions and consequently factors affecting the learning and use of such cues deserve increasing attention from ecologists.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorChivers, Douglas P.
CommitteeWiebe, Karen L.; Messier, François; Hudson, Jeff J.; Gonyou, Harold W.; Clark, Robert G.
Copyright DateMarch 2006