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Chemical Alarm Signals Enhance Survival of Brook Charr (Salvelinus fontinalis) During Encounters with Predatory Chain Pickerel (Esox niger)


R. S. Mirza, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 5E2. E-mail:


A diversity of aquatic organisms release chemical alarm signals when attacked or captured by a predator. These alarm signals are thought to warn other conspecifics of danger and, consequently, may benefit receivers by increasing their survival. Here we experimentally investigated the differences in behaviour and survival of hatchery-reared juvenile brook charr Salvelinus fontinalis that had been exposed to either brook charr skin extract (experimental treatment) or a control of swordtail skin extract (control treatment). Charr exposed to conspecific skin extract exhibited a significant reduction in movement and/or altered their foraging behaviour in the laboratory when compared with charr exposed to swordtail skin extract. We also exposed charr to either water conditioned by a single brook charr disturbed by a predatory bird model or water conditioned by a single undisturbed brook charr. Charr exposed to disturbance signals reduced activity significantly more than charr exposed to chemical stimuli from undisturbed charr. These results demonstrate the existence of both damage-released alarm signals and disturbance signals in brook charr. Wild brook charr also responded to damage-released alarm cues under natural conditions. Charr avoided areas of a stream with minnow traps labelled with conspecific alarm cues vs. control cues. During staged encounters with chain pickerel Esox niger in the laboratory, predator-naive charr fry were better able to evade the predator if they were previously warned by an alarm signal, thus suggesting a survival benefit to receivers. Collectively, these results demonstrate that the presence of alarm signals in brook charr has important implications for understanding predator–prey interactions.