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PLoS One. 2011 Jan 10;6(1):e15764. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015764.

Coral reef fish rapidly learn to identify multiple unknown predators upon recruitment to the reef.

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Australia Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.


Organisms often undergo shifts in habitats as their requirements change with ontogeny.Upon entering a new environment, it is vitally important to be able to rapidly assess predation risk. Predation pressure should selectively promote mechanisms that enable the rapid identification of novel predators. Here we tested the ability of a juvenile marine fish to simultaneously learn the identity of multiple previously unknown predators. Individuals were conditioned with a 'cocktail' of novel odours (from two predators and two non-predators) paired with either a conspecific alarm cue or a saltwater control and then tested for recognition of the four odours individually and two novel odours (one predator and one non-predator) the following day. Individuals conditioned with the 'cocktail' and alarm cue responded to the individual 'cocktail' odours with an antipredator response compared to controls. These results demonstrate that individuals acquire recognition of novel odours and that the responses were not due to innate recognition of predators or due to a generalised response to novel odours. Upon entering an unfamiliar environment prey species are able to rapidly assess the risk of predation, enhancing their chances of survival, through the assessment of chemical stimuli.

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