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Life-skills training for juvenile lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)



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Hatchery supplementation of declining fish populations is used for increasing year-class strength, particularly when fish are released with knowledge of local predators. The ability of young-of-the-year lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) to avoid predation, as well as their vulnerability to predation, remains undocumented. The objective of my thesis was to determine: 1) whether hatchery-reared, predator-naive juvenile sturgeon would respond to alarm cues from injured conspecific cues, a reliable indicator of predation risk in other fishes; and 2) if sturgeon would learn to identify unknown predators through a Pavlovian-like conditioning with conspecific alarm cues. Releaser-induced recognition learning is a variant of Pavlovian learning in which recognition of a previously neutral stimulus is acquired through the experience of pairing a behaviourally active releasing stimulus and a novel stimulus. Sturgeon were initially conditioned using a behaviourally active stimulus of sturgeon alarm cue, paired with a behaviourally neutral stimulus of novel northern pike (Esox lucius) odour, or were pseudo-conditioned with distilled water paired with pike odour. Following conditioning, sturgeon were tested for recognition of the predator odour 24 hours later. The first population of fish (Rainy River) showed a dramatic antipredator response to alarm cues from the skin of conspecifics, but failed to exhibit learning of a novel predator through conditioning with alarm cues obtained from the skin of conspecifics. However, when Rainy River fish were conditioned with alarm cues from the whole body of conspecifics, they showed strong learning of the predator. Conditioning Wolf River fish to recognize predators with whole body extract had no effect on response to predator odours. However, when the fish were conditioned multiple times there was evidence of predator learning. These results highlight potential opportunities and limitation to life-skill training of artificially reared sturgeon for future conservation initiatives.



anti-predator behaviour, lake sturgeon, alarm cue, predator-prey interactions, learning, life skills training, hatchery, escape response, morphology, ontogeny



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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