Background level of risk determines how prey categorize predators and non-predators

Chivers, Douglas P., McCormick, Mark I., Mitchell, Matthew D., Ramasamy, Ryan A., and Ferrari, Maud C.O. (2014) Background level of risk determines how prey categorize predators and non-predators. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 281 (1787). pp. 1-6.

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Much of the plasticity that prey exhibit in response to predators is linked to the prey's immediate background level of risk. However, we know almost nothing of how background risk influences how prey learn to categorize predators and non-predators. Learning non-predators probably represents one of the most underappreciated aspects of anti-predator decision-making. Here, we provide larval damselfish (Pomacentrus chrysurus) with a high or low background risk and then try to teach them to recognize a cue as non-threatening through the process of latent inhibition. Prey from the low-risk background that were pre-exposed to the novel odour cues in the absence of negative reinforcement for 3 days, and then provided the opportunity to learn to recognize the odour as threatening, failed to subsequently respond to the odour as a threat. Fish from the high-risk background showed a much different response. These fish did not learn the odour as non-threatening, probably because the cost of falsely learning an odour as non-threatening is higher when the background level of risk is higher. Our work highlights that background level of risk appears to drive plasticity in cognition of prey animals learning to discriminate threats in their environment.

Item ID: 38430
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: learning, predator recognition, non-predator recognition, risk assessment, damselfish, coral reefs
Funders: Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada, Australian Research Council (ARC), ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2015 03:29
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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