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Turbidity increases risk perception but constrains collective behaviour during foraging by fish shoals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Behaviour
DateAccepted/In press - 8 Jul 2019


Turbidity reduces the distance that animals can detect food, predators and conspecifics. How turbidity affects decision making in social contexts has rarely been investigated; moreover, it is unknown whether decreased shoaling in turbid water is due to visual constraints (a mechanistic explanation) or a reduced perception of predation risk (an adaptive explanation). Using a V-shaped decision making arena, we investigated the effect of turbidity on foraging in groups of three18 spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). In turbid conditions, fish took longer to leave a refuge, longer to locate the food in one of the arms, and consumed less food once it was found.
This increase in risk-averse behaviour was further supported by improved accuracy over repeated trials and a speed-accuracy trade-off only being observed in turbid conditions. Despite evidence of a higher perception of risk in turbid water, the fish to first choose an arm of the maze was more likely to be alone in turbid water, thus this individual lost the anti-predatory and decision making benefits of collective behaviour. This suggests that turbidity acts mechanistically as a visual constraint, shifting decisions away from being made collectively to being made by individuals separated from the group, which could have potential impacts for wild prey populations

    Research areas

  • Antipredator behaviour, collective behaviour, foraging, group decision making, refuge, stickleback



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    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

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