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Active space of chemical alarm cue in natural fish populations

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Chemical cues released from injured fish skin during a predator attack provide reliable information about the presence of predation risk. Here, I report estimates of the area avoided by littoral fishes after experimental release of chemical alarm cues in two small lakes in northern Minnesota. Minnow traps were labeled chemically with either water (control) or skin extract (chemical alarm cue) made from 2 cm2 of cyprinid skin (redbelly dace in experiment 1, fathead minnows in experiment 2). Traps labeled with water were placed 1, 2, or 8 m from traps labeled with alarm cue. After 2 h, water-traps that were either 1 or 2 m distant from an alarm-trap caught significantly fewer fish than water-traps 8 m distant from alarm-traps. Conspecific and heterospecific skin extract produced similar area avoidance by fathead minnows. Redbelly dace showed a larger active space in response to conspecific than heterospecific alarm cues. Brook stickleback showed reduced catches within 2 m of skin extract of fathead minnows. Overall, the radius of active space was between 2 and 8 m under lake conditions with average subsurface currents of 0.82 cm/s. These data are the first field estimates of active space of ostariophysan chemical alarm cues.

Affiliations: 1: Biosciences Department, Minnesota State University Moorhead, 1104 7th Ave S, Moorhead, MN 56563, USA


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