The role of experience and chemical alarm signalling in predator recognition by fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas

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Abstract

Young-of-the-year, predator-naive fathead minnows, Pimephales promelas, from a pikesympatric population did not respond to chemical stimuli from northern pike, Esox Indus, while wild-caught fish of the same age and size did. These results suggest that chemical predator recognition is a result of previous experience and not genetic factors, Wild young-of-the-year minnows responded to pike odour with a response intensity that was similar to that of older fish, demonstrating that the ability to recognize predators is learned within the first year. The intensity of response of wild minnows which had been maintained in a predator free environment for 1 year was similar to that of recently caught minnows of the same age, suggesting that reinforcement was not required for predator recognition to be retained. Naive minnows that were exposed simultaneously to chemical stimuli from pike (a neutral stimulus) and minnow alarm substance exhibited a fright response upon subsequent exposure to the pike stimulus alone. Predator-naive minnows exposed simultaneously to chemical stimuli from pike and glass-distilled water did not exhibit a fright response to the pike stimulus alone. These results demonstrate that fathead minnows can acquire predator recognition through releaserinduced recognition learning, thus confirming a known mechanism through which alarm substance may benefit the receivers of an alarm signal.

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