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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Nov 22;270(1531):2413-9.

Species difference in adaptive use of public information in sticklebacks.

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Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Bute Medical Building, Queen's Terrace, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK.


Animals foraging on variable food sources can refine their estimates of patch quality by monitoring the success of others (i.e. collect 'public information'). Here, we show that both three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius) use past cues provided by others to locate food but only nine-spined sticklebacks use prior public information to assess patch quality, regardless of whether demonstrators were conspecifics or heterospecifics. Moreover, nine-spined but not three-spined sticklebacks preferentially hid in vegetation during the demonstration, a position from which they could observe both patches simultaneously and collect public information. We conclude that species differences in the use of public information can be explained by variations in habitat choice and response to predation. Our findings expand current understanding of the scope of public-information use in animals by showing that fishes can use public-information in a foraging context and from heterospecifics. The study suggests that public-information use is an adaptation that allows animals vulnerable to predation to acquire valuable foraging information at low risk.

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