Plasticity of escape responses: Prior predator experience enhances escape performance in a coral reef fish

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Abstract

Teleost and amphibian prey undertake fast-start escape responses during a predatory attack in an attempt to avoid being captured. Although previously viewed as a reflex reaction controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the escape responses of individuals when repeatedly startled are highly variable in their characteristics, suggesting some behavioural mediation of the response. Previous studies have shown that fishes are able to learn from past experiences, but few studies have assessed how past experience with predators affect the fast-start response. Here we determined whether prior experience with the smell or sight of a predator (the Dottyback, Pseudochromis fuscus) affected the escape response of juveniles of the Spiny Chromis (Acanthochromis polyacanthus). Results show that individuals exposed to any of the predator cues prior to being startled exhibited a stronger escape response (i.e., reduced latency, increased escape distance, mean response speed, maximum response speed and maximum acceleration) when compared with controls. This study demonstrates the plasticity of escape responses and highlights the potential for naïve reef fish to take into account both visual and olfactory threat cues simultaneously to optimise the amplitude of their kinematic responses to perceived risk.

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Ramasamy, R. A., Allan, B. J. M., & McCormick, M. I. (2015). Plasticity of escape responses: Prior predator experience enhances escape performance in a coral reef fish. PLoS ONE, 10(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0132790

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