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Anim Cogn. 2012 Jul;15(4):559-65. doi: 10.1007/s10071-012-0484-z. Epub 2012 Mar 28.

Social learning and acquired recognition of a predator by a marine fish.

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia.


Predation is known to influence the distribution of behavioural traits among prey individuals, populations and communities over both evolutionary and ecological time scales. Prey have evolved mechanisms of rapidly learning the identity of predators. Chemical cues are often used by prey to assess predation risk especially in aquatic systems where visual cues are unreliable. Social learning is a method of threat assessment common among a variety of freshwater fish taxa, which incorporates chemosensory information. Learning predator identities through social learning is beneficial to naïve individuals as it eliminates the need for direct interaction with a potential threat. Although social learning is widespread throughout the animal kingdom, no research on the use of this mechanism exists for marine species. In this study, we examined the role of social learning in predator recognition for a tropical damselfish, Acanthochromis polyacanthus. This species was found to not only possess and respond to conspecific chemical alarm cues, but naïve individuals were able to learn a predators' identity from experienced individuals, the process of social learning. Fish that learned to associate risk with the olfactory cue of a predator responded with the same intensity as conspecifics that were exposed to a chemical alarm cue from a conspecific skin extract.

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