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Social Context Influences the Antipredator Behaviour of Fathead Minnows to Chemical Alarm Cues


M. S. Pollock, Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon S7N 5E2, Canada.


Prey fishes, like many organisms under fluctuating predation threat, rely on multiple sources of information to accurately gauge current risk. This includes the use of chemical cues such as alarm cues from damaged conspecifics or familiar heterospecifics, as well as the odour of known predators. While each fish is well equipped with its own array of sensory abilities, they should also be alert to the behaviours of nearby neighbours who may have information they lack. In the present study, we tested the ability of fathead minnows to use social cues in combination with the odour of damaged conspecifics and heterospecifics to mediate the assessment of predation risk. Specifically, we tested whether the presence of a shoal of conspecifics or familiar heterospecifics would significantly change a minnow's antipredator behaviour when exposed to the odour of a damage-release cue from a conspecific or ecologically similar heterospecific. The results of our study showed a significant interaction between the damage-release cues to which the minnows were exposed and the presence/absence of shoalmates. These findings have important implications for the design of future investigations of antipredator responses because most studies of group-living prey have been conducted on solitary subjects.