Early recognition and response to predator, heterospecific, and conspecific visual cues by multiple species of poeciliid fry

in Behaviour
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Recognition and response to cues from conspecific and heterospecific individuals is critical to survival and reproduction and therefore should be learned early in life. Young fry of two live-bearing fishes, Poecilia mexicana and Xiphophorus birchmanni, were exposed to visual cues of three different species in order to measure shoal tightening, an antipredator defence. Both species responded to a putative predator with shoal tightening, but response to a con- and hetero-specific poeciliid did not differ, though inter-fry distances became larger in the presence of both species compared to distances prior to exposure. There were also size-dependent effects on the pairwise distance between fry. These results suggest that fry are able to learn to distinguish among species based on visual cues alone at an early age, that A. mexicanus is perceived as a threat, but that adult poeciliids are likely not perceived as a predator by fry as some studies have posited.

Early recognition and response to predator, heterospecific, and conspecific visual cues by multiple species of poeciliid fry

in Behaviour



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    Fry responded to predator stimuli with significant shoal tightening (mean ± SE), but exhibited no such response to conspecific adults or the heterospecific poeciliid. Species means (P. mexicana, N=18; X. birchmanni, N=17) were not significantly different within the factor ‘stimulus type’ but are shown here for comparative purposes. Different letters above/below bars indicate significance in the overall repeated measures ANCOVA model.

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    The absolute difference in body size of pairs of fry interacted significantly with ‘stimulus type’ to affect shoal tightening responses (p=0.031). During exposure to conspecifics and adult heterospecifics, fry with larger differences in body size tended to move farther apart. In the presence of the predator, this tendency disappeared and fry shoaling was independent of their body sizes.

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    Experimental set-up for behavioural trials. Fry testing tanks were placed adjacent to a central stimulus tank. Tanks were placed with only enough space between them such that an opaque divider could be inserted and removed, respectively, for the acclimatization and exposure periods of the trials.

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    Within trials for single pairs of fry, activity of stimulus species did not differ as tested by paired t-tests among all pairwise comparisons of stimulus species (for all, p>0.6). Shown here is the mean (± SE) active time of each stimulus species across all trials.

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