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Influence of Body Size on the Responses of Fathead Minnows, Pimephales promelas, to Damselfly Alarm Cues


Reehan S. Mirza, Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA. E-mail:


A wide diversity of aquatic organisms release chemical alarm cues upon encountering or being attacked by a predator. These alarm cues can be used by nearby individuals to assess local predation risk. Receivers warned by chemical alarm cues gain a survival benefit when encountering predators. Animals that are in the same prey guild (i.e. that co-occur and share the same predators) may learn to recognize each others’ chemical alarm cues. This ability may confer an adaptive advantage if the prey animals are vulnerable to the same predators. However, if the prey grow to different sizes and as a consequence are no longer vulnerable to the same suite of predators, then there should no longer be an advantage for the prey to respond to each others’ alarm cues. In this study, we exposed small and large fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) to cues from syntopic injured damselfly larvae (Enallagma boreale), cues from injured mealworm larvae (Tenebrio molitor) and to distilled water. Small minnows exhibited antipredatory behaviour and increased shelter use in response to injured damselfly cues but not to the controls of injured mealworm or distilled water. On the contrary, large minnows exhibited no significant change in shelter use in response to any of the injured cues. These data demonstrate that fathead minnows exhibit an antipredator response to damselfly alarm cues, but only when minnows are small and members of the same prey guild as damselfly larvae. These results demonstrate the considerable flexibility in the responses to heterospecific alarm cues.