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Learning to hunt: the role of experience in predator success

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image of Behaviour

Animal behaviour is a composite of innate and learned components. During their lifetimes, animals typically gain experience and manifest learning, thereby augmenting or modifying genetically determined, innate behaviour patterns. Following a training period during which predatory fish (jade perch, Scortum barcoo) were allocated to treatments and given experience of either live prey (mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki), freshly killed prey, or cichlid pellets with equal nutritional value, we tested the response of the predators to the prey in an experimental arena. Across all treatments, there was no difference in the number of attacks made by the predators on the prey, however the predators with experience of live fish prey were significantly more successful in capturing prey than those without previous experience of live prey. These results suggest that, in this piscivorous predator, the recognition of prey has an innate component, but that hunting efficiency is increased through experience. These findings are discussed in terms of their implications for the release of hatchery-reared fish into the wild, the majority of which are predatory.

Affiliations: 1: School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; 2: School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia;, Email:


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