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Ontogenetic Changes in the Response of Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides, Centrarchidae, Perciformes) to Heterospecific Alarm Pheromones


Grant E. Brown, Department of Biological Sciences, Science and Engineering Center, Union College, Schenectady, New York, 12308, USA. E-mail:


Juvenile largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) undergo an ontogenetic niche shift from invertebrate feeding members of the cyprinid prey guild to piscivory during their first year of growth. We conducted laboratory and field trials to determine whether juvenile bass show a similar ontogenetic shift in their response to the alarm pheromone of finescale dace (Phoxinus neogaeus, Cyprinidae). When exposed to dace skin extract (with alarm pheromone), juvenile bass exhibited a significant positive relationship between standard length and horizontal and vertical area use and time spent moving. Small bass (< 50 mm standard length) tended to reduce area use and time spent moving (indicative of an anti-predator response), while larger bass (> 50 mm standard length) increased area use and time spent moving (indicating a foraging response). Bass exhibited no change in behaviour when exposed to swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri) skin extract, which lacks Ostariophysan alarm pheromone. During field trials, small (30–45 mm standard length) and medium (46–60 mm standard length) bass actively avoided areas labelled with dace alarm pheromone and exhibited a significant increase in dashing behaviour. Large bass (61–80 mm standard length) were attracted to such areas and exhibited a significant increase in approach behaviour. These data suggest that largemouth bass undergo an ontogenetic shift in response to heterospecific chemical alarm signals.