Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 133–143 | Cite as

Numerical ability in fish species: preference between shoals of different sizes varies among singletons, conspecific dyads and heterospecific dyads

  • Yang Bai
  • Zhong-Hua Tang
  • Shi-Jian FuEmail author
Original Paper


Group living confers ecological benefits, and the associated fitness gain may be positively related to the size of the group. Thus, the ability to discriminate numerical differences may confer important fitness advantages in social fish. There is evidence that this ability can be improved by behavioral interactions among individuals of the same species. Here, we looked for this effect in both conspecific and heterospecific dyads. In Chinese bream and grass carp, we measured the sociability and shoal preferences of singletons, conspecific dyads and heterospecific dyads presented with different numerical comparisons (0 vs 8, 2 vs 8, 4 vs 8, 6 vs 8 and 8 vs 8). Chinese bream generally showed higher sociability than did grass carp, but grass carp in heterospecific dyads showed improved sociability that was similar to that of Chinese bream. Among the comparisons, both grass carp and Chinese bream singletons could only discriminate the comparison of 2 vs 8, suggesting lower quantitative abilities in these fish species compared to other fish species. Grass carp dyads were more successful in discriminating between 6 and 8 than were singletons, although no such improvement was observed in their discrimination between 4 and 8. In contrast, numerical ability did not vary between singletons and conspecific dyads in Chinese bream. More interestingly, Chinese bream and grass carp in heterospecific groups could discriminate between 4 and 8, but neither species showed a preference when presented with 6 and 8. Our results suggested that interaction between conspecific grass carp might improve their joint numerical ability, and a similar process might occur in Chinese bream in heterospecific dyads. However, the mechanism underlying the differences in improvements in numerical ability requires further investigation. The improved cognitive ability of heterospecific dyads might yield important fitness advantages for predator avoidance and efficient foraging in the wild.


Numerical ability Cyprinid Collective intelligence Shoal preference Meritocratic leadership Many-wrongs principle 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31670418).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Evolutionary Physiology and Behavior, Chongqing Key Laboratory of Animal BiologyChongqing Normal UniversityChongqingChina

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