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Cue recognition and behavioural responses in the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) under risk of fish predation

Journal article
Authors A. Landeira-Dabarca
Joacim Näslund
Jörgen I Johnsson
M. Álvarez
Published in Acta Ethologica
Volume 22
Issue 3
Pages 209-221
ISSN 0873-9749
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 209-221
Language en
Keywords Alarm cues, Anti-predation behaviour, Chemical cues, Multimodal cues, Predator, Visual cues
Subject categories Ethology and behavioural ecology


To effectively respond to predation risk, prey must assess the risk associated with different predation cues. Predation cues can stem either from the predator or from conspecifics and indicate different predation risk levels, thus eliciting different anti-predation responses. The three-spined stickleback is a well-studied fish species often found in gregarious formations. Previous studies show that sticklebacks perform a variety of anti-predation behaviours; however, little is known about how they respond to multiple simultaneous predator cues, characteristic of heterogeneous natural habitats. Here, we experimentally compare the relative importance of three types of predation cues (visual predator cue, chemical predator odour cue and chemical alarm cue from injured conspecifics) and their interactions, on anti-predation and foraging behaviour of sticklebacks. Results showed that (1) individual sticklebacks responded most strongly to visual predator cues, which resulted in reduced foraging activity, increased spine erection and increased predator inspection; (2) the presence of chemical cues (predator odour and/or conspecific alarm cues) stimulates freezing behaviour to a minor extent; and (3) anti-predation behaviour manifests as a trade-off with foraging-related activities. Overall, the results indicate that sticklebacks could assess risk and modify their behavioural responses depending on which cues are present in the environment. The experimental approach of using factorial combinations of different predatory cues can increase our understanding of the role of multimodal cues in aquatic ecosystems.

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