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Motion, not Shape, Facilitates Association of Predation Risk with Novel Objects by Fathead Minnows (Pimephales promelas)


Wisenden, Department of Biology, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, MN 56563, USA. E-mail:


Injury-released chemical cues are reliable indicators of predation risk among many aquatic taxa. When a novel, neutral stimulus is presented in tandem with chemical cues from an injured conspecific, an association is formed between the novel stimulus and apparent risk. Learned recognition of predation risk is well documented for fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas. When minnows detect alarm cues in nature they are also potentially exposed to multiple environmental stimuli, few of which are likely to be relevant indicators of risk. How do minnows discern among candidate stimuli potentially associated with predation risk? Two possibilities are shape and motion. In this study, individual piscivore-naïve minnows were presented simultaneously with conspecific chemical alarm cues and two stimulus objects. One object was a darkened tube with its long axis in the horizontal plane (fish-like). The second object was a black disk. Following introduction of chemical alarm cues, one of the objects was raised and lowered repeatedly. After a single conditioning trial, minnows associated risk significantly more with the previously moving object than the previously stationary object, as indicated by reduced activity. Object shape had no significant effect on response intensity in test trials. Our data suggest that minnows have been selected to form aversive responses to moving objects at a site of recent predation because movement is a more predictable indicator of predator identity than shape.