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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Jan 22;275(1631):203-8.

Shoal and prey patch choice by co-occurring fishes and prawns: inter-taxa use of socially transmitted cues.

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Department of Biology, University of Leicester, Adrian Building, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK.


Animals can use socially transmitted information to learn about the distribution and quality of resources without incurring the costs associated with having to search for and sample them first hand. Recently, it has been shown that the use of chemical social information specific to patterns of diet and habitat use is an important mechanism underpinning recognition and social organization in shoaling fishes. In this study we revealed that the use of resource-specific chemical information is not limited to conspecifics, or even members of the same taxon. In a series of laboratory experiments, we showed that threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) could recognize similar patterns of habitat use in common prawns (Leander serratus), preferentially orientating towards groups of prawns exposed to the same habitats as themselves, and even selecting foraging patches located close to them. Prawns were seen to use habitat-specific cues generated by conspecifics, but not by sticklebacks, suggesting that the benefits of forming these heterospecific social association patterns may be unequal for prawns and fishes. Our findings suggest that some species might use co-occurring, unrelated species as information centres in order to orient and locate resources within their surroundings.

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