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Learning to recognize and generalize the sight of predators and non-predators : does turbidity impair recognition?



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To be successful, individuals that are susceptible to predation have to optimize the trade-offs between predator avoidance and other fitness related activities such as foraging or reproduction. One challenge for prey is to identify which species pose a threat and should be avoided, and which species should be ignored. The goal of this study was to investigate whether minnows can generalize recognition of predators and non-predators using visual cues. I conducted experiments in both clear and turbid conditions to test whether the level of turbidity affects the quality of visual information available to the prey and hence the ability of prey to generalize. Latent inhibition and learned irrelevance are mechanisms of learning that can be used by prey to recognize stimuli as non-risky. Repeated exposure to an unknown stimulus in the absence of risk leads to the stimulus being categorized as non-risky. Fathead minnows were pre-exposed to the sight of brook trout or control water to provide minnows the opportunity to learn to recognize the trout as a non-predator. Following this the fish were conditioned with alarm cues (AC) to the sight of each predator paired and then their responses to the sight of brook trout, rainbow trout, and yellow perch were tested either in clear or turbid water. In clear water, minnows conditioned to recognize one of the trout species generalized their response to the other species. However, when the minnows were pre-exposed to the sight of a brook trout, they were inhibited from subsequently recognizing the sight of brook trout as threat and generalized this non-predator recognition to the sight of rainbow trout but not to yellow perch. In turbid water, however, minnows that were pre-exposed to the sight of brook trout had impaired responses to all predators while those pre-exposed to water showed an intermediate intensity anti-predator response toward each predator. Overall, my results demonstrate that minnows were able to distinguish between predators and non-predators in the clear environment but turbidity influences the visual information used by minnows and hence impaired the minnow’s ability to recognize and generalize the sight of predators and non-predator species.



Anthropogenic, anti-predator behavior, fathead minnows, predator recognition, risk assessment, turbidity.



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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