Age, Experience and the Development of Adaptive Variation in Anti-predator Responses in Three-spined Sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)


Department of Zoology, Glasgow University, Glasgow G128QQ, U.K.


Stickleback fry (approx. 10 mm in length) were collected from two sites in Scotland, one with abundant predatory fish and birds and the other free of predation. The fry were reared in the laboratory until they reached a length of about 30 mm, at which time fry of the same length were caught from the two study sites. 10 fish from each size and rearing category (10 mm fry, 30 mm labreared fry and 30 mm wild-caught fry) and from each population were exposed singly to a silhouette of an avian predator moved above the surface of the tank. On average 50% of the fish jumped away on sighting the model, and there were no differences between the groups in the proportion of fish giving this response. Other aspects of the anti-predator repertoire of sticklebacks (in particular, remaining motionless after an encounter) were absent in 10 mm fry from both sites. Protective responses appeared (in fish from the predated but not the unpredated site) by the time they reached a length of 30 mm, regardless of whether they were laboratory-reared or wild-caught. Thus adaptive behavioural differences between these two populations arise as sticklebacks from the heavily predated site develop responses that fail to appear in those from the unpredated site and that are independent of direct experience of predatory attack.