Cue recognition and behavioural responses in the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) under risk of fish predation

  • A. Landeira-DabarcaEmail author
  • J. Näslund
  • J. I. Johnsson
  • M. Álvarez
Original Article


To effectively respond to predation risk, prey must assess the risk associated with different predation cues. Predation cues can stem either from the predator or from conspecifics and indicate different predation risk levels, thus eliciting different anti-predation responses. The three-spined stickleback is a well-studied fish species often found in gregarious formations. Previous studies show that sticklebacks perform a variety of anti-predation behaviours; however, little is known about how they respond to multiple simultaneous predator cues, characteristic of heterogeneous natural habitats. Here, we experimentally compare the relative importance of three types of predation cues (visual predator cue, chemical predator odour cue and chemical alarm cue from injured conspecifics) and their interactions, on anti-predation and foraging behaviour of sticklebacks. Results showed that (1) individual sticklebacks responded most strongly to visual predator cues, which resulted in reduced foraging activity, increased spine erection and increased predator inspection; (2) the presence of chemical cues (predator odour and/or conspecific alarm cues) stimulates freezing behaviour to a minor extent; and (3) anti-predation behaviour manifests as a trade-off with foraging-related activities. Overall, the results indicate that sticklebacks could assess risk and modify their behavioural responses depending on which cues are present in the environment. The experimental approach of using factorial combinations of different predatory cues can increase our understanding of the role of multimodal cues in aquatic ecosystems.


Predator Multimodal cues Anti-predation behaviour Chemical cues Alarm cues Visual cues 



Our co-author J. I. Johnsson sadly passed away during the final process of writing this manuscript, his contributions to the field were major and he will be missed and remembered as a great mentor and collaborator. The work was finalised with support from University of South Bohemia, Faculty of Science, Dept. Ecosystem Biology & SoWa (MEYS; projects LM2015075, EF16_0130001782-SoWa Ecosystems Research) to ALD and JN.

Authors’ contribution

MA and ALD conceived and designed the investigation. ALD, JN and JIJ performed the field and laboratory work. JN analysed the data. JIJ and MA contributed materials, reagents and analysis tools. ALD wrote the manuscript and all other authors widely contributed and provided editorial advice.

Funding information

This study was supported by funding from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the National Program for Fundamental Research (ref. CGL 2009-07904) to MA, and the Swedish Research Council Formas to JIJ.

Compliance with ethical standards

The experiment was approved by the Ethical Committee for Animal Research in Gothenburg (Licence 8-2011) and complied with current laws in Sweden and the European Directive 2010/63/EU.

Supplementary material

10211_2019_324_MOESM1_ESM.docx (65 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 65 kb)


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Copyright information

© ISPA, CRL 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Animal BiologyUniversity of VigoVigoSpain
  2. 2.Department of Ecosystem Biology & SoWaUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Biological and Environmental SciencesUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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