Disrupted learning: habitat degradation impairs crucial antipredator responses in naive prey

McCormick, Mark I., and Lönnstedt, Oona M. (2016) Disrupted learning: habitat degradation impairs crucial antipredator responses in naive prey. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological Sciences, 283. 20160441. pp. 1-8.

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Habitat degradation is a global problem and one of the main causes of biodiversity loss. Though widespread, the mechanisms that underlie faunal changes are poorly understood. In tropical marine systems corals play a crucial role in forming habitat, but coral cover on many reefs is declining sharply. Coral degradation affects the olfactory cues that provide reliable information on the presence and intensity of threat. Here we show for the first time that the ability of a habitat generalist to learn predators using an efficient and widespread method of predator learning is compromised in degraded coral habitats. Results indicate that chemical alarm cues are no longer indicative of a local threat for the habitat generalist (the damselfish, Pomacentrus amboinensis), and these cues can no longer be used to learn the identity of novel predators in degraded habitats. In contrast, a rubble specialist and congeneric (P. coelestis) responded to olfactory threat cues regardless of background environment and could learn the identity of a novel predator using chemical alarm cues. Understanding how some species can cope with or acclimate to the detrimental impacts of habitat degradation on risk assessment abilities will be crucial to defining the scope of resilience in threatened communities.

Item ID: 47758
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1471-2954
Keywords: Chemical alarm cue, coral reef fishes, habitat degradation, predator-prey, risk assessment, threat learning
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CECRS)
Projects and Grants: CECRS EI 140100117
Research Data: http://dx.doi.org/10.4225/28/55A45055A0C12
Date Deposited: 31 Mar 2017 00:20
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310302 Community ecology (excl. invasive species ecology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960307 Effects of Climate Change and Variability on Australia (excl. Social Impacts) @ 100%
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