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Socially acquired predator recognition in complex ecosystems
journal contributionposted on 20.09.2018, 00:00 by Rachel Manassa, MI McCormick, DP Chivers
Social animals acquire information on predator identities through social learning, where individuals with no prior experience learn from experienced members of the group. However, a large amount of uncertainty is often associated with socially acquired information especially in cases of cross-species learning. Theory predicts that socially acquired information from heterospecifics should take more repetitions to develop in complex ecosystems where the number of participants is greater. Our work focuses on coral reef fish as their social and communal lifestyles, along with their complex life histories, make them an ideal model to test for socially acquired predator recognition. Specifically, we tested if Pomacentrus wardi were capable of transmitting the recognition of an unknown predator, Pseudochromis fuscus, to closely related Pomacentrus moluccensis and phylogenetically distant Apogon trimaculatus. Individuals of both species were able to learn the predator's identity from experienced P. wardi based on a single conditioning event. It is somewhat surprising how fast social learning occurred particularly for the distantly related cardinalfish. This study demonstrates the widespread nature of social learning as a method of predator recognition in biologically complex ecosystems, and highlights that the benefits of responding to uncertain information may override the costs associated with lost foraging opportunities.