Learn and live: predator experience and feeding history determines prey behaviour and survival

Lönnstedt, Oona M., McCormick, Mark I., Meekan, Mark G., Ferrari, Maud C.O., and Chivers, Douglas P. (2012) Learn and live: predator experience and feeding history determines prey behaviour and survival. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 279 (1736). pp. 2091-2098.

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Determining how prey learn the identity of predators and match their vigilance with current levels of threat is central to understanding the dynamics of predator–prey systems and the determinants of fitness. Our study explores how feeding history influences the relative importance of olfactory and visual sensory modes of learning, and how the experience gained through these sensory modes influences behaviour and survival in the field for a juvenile coral reef damselfish. We collected young fish immediately prior to their settlement to benthic habitats. In the laboratory, these predator-naïve fish were exposed to a high- or low-food ration and then conditioned to recognize the olfactory cues (odours) and/or visual cues from two common benthic predators. Fish were then allowed to settle on reefs in the field, and their behaviour and survival over 70 h were recorded. Feeding history strongly influenced their willingness to take risks in the natural environment. Conditioning in the laboratory with visual, olfactory or both cues from predators led fish in the field to display risk-averse behaviour compared with fish conditioned with sea water alone. Well-fed fish that were conditioned with visual, chemical or a combination of predator cues survived eight times better over the first 48 h on reefs than those with no experience of benthic predator cues. This experiment highlights the importance of a flexible and rapid mechanism of learning the identity of predators for survival of young fish during the critical life-history transition between pelagic and benthic habitats.

Item ID: 22188
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: learned predator recognition, chemical alarm cue, visual cues, olfactory cues, prey feeding history, coral reef fish
Research Data: http://dx.doi.org/10.4225/28/5a67dd4ea9254
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2012 16:10
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060202 Community Ecology (excl Invasive Species Ecology) @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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