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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Aug 7;275(1644):1811-6. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0305.

Can prey exhibit threat-sensitive generalization of predator recognition? Extending the Predator Recognition Continuum Hypothesis.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N 5E2.


Despite the importance of predator recognition in mediating predator-prey interactions, we know little about the specific characteristics that prey use to distinguish predators from non-predators. Recent experiments indicate that some prey who do not innately recognize specific predators as threats have the ability to display antipredator responses upon their first encounter with those predators if they are similar to predators that the prey has recently learned to recognize. The purpose of our present experiment is to test whether this generalization of predator recognition is dependent on the level of risk associated with the known predator. We conditioned fathead minnows to chemically recognize brown trout either as a high or low threat and then tested the minnows for their responses to brown trout, rainbow trout (closely related predator) or yellow perch (distantly related predator). When the brown trout represents a high-risk predator, minnows show an antipredator response to the odour of brown trout and rainbow trout but not to yellow perch. However, when the brown trout represents a low-risk predator, minnows display antipredator responses to brown trout, but not to the rainbow trout or yellow perch. We discuss these results in the context of the Predator Recognition Continuum Hypothesis.

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