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Abstract

A diversity of fishes release chemical cues upon being attacked by a predator. These cues, commonly termed alarm cues, act as sources of public information warning conspecifics of predation risk. Species which are members of the same prey guild (i.e. syntopic and share predators) often respond to one another's alarm cues. The purpose of this study was to discriminate avoidance responses of fishes to conspecific alarm cues and cues of other prey guild members from responses to unknown damaged fish odours and novel odours. We used underwater video to measure avoidance responses of freshwater littoral species, namely fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas), finescale dace (Chrosomus neogaeus), and brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans), to both injured fish cues and novel non-fish odours. The cyprinids (minnows and dace) showed significant avoidance of minnow cues over swordtail cues, morpholine, and the control of distilled water and tended to avoid fathead cues over cues of known prey guild members (stickleback). Cyprinids also significantly avoided cues of stickleback over unknown heterospecific cues (swordtail) and tended to avoid stickleback cues over morpholine and the distilled water control. Stickleback significantly avoided fathead minnow extract over the distilled water and tended to avoid stickleback and swordtail over distilled water. We conclude that fishes in their natural environment can show dramatic changes in behaviour upon exposure to alarm cues from conspecifics and prey guild members. These responses do not represent avoidance of cues of any injured fish or any novel odour.