A prerequisite for prey to show adaptive behavioural responses to predators is that the prey has the ability to recognise predators as threats. While predator recognition can be innate in many situations, learning is often essential. For many aquatic species, one common way to learn about predators is through the pairing of a novel predator odour with alarm cues released from injured conspecifics. One study with fish demonstrated that this mode of learning not only allows the prey to recognise the predatory cues as a threat, but also mediates the level of threat associated with the predator cues (i.e. threat-sensitive learning). When the prey is exposed to the novel predator with a high concentration of alarm cues, they subsequently show a high intensity of antipredator response to the predator cues alone. When exposed to the predator with a low concentration of alarm cues, they subsequently show a low-intensity response to the predator cues. Here, we investigated whether larval mosquitoes Culex restuans have the ability to learn to recognise salamanders as a threat through a single pairing of alarm cues and salamander odour and also whether they would learn to respond to salamander cues in a threat-sensitive manner. We conditioned individual mosquitoes with water or a low, medium or high concentration of crushed conspecific cues (alarm cues) paired with salamander odour. Mosquitoes exposed to salamander odour paired with alarm cues and subsequently exposed to salamander odour alone responded to the salamander as a threat. Moreover, the intensity of antipredator response displayed during the conditioning phase matched the response intensity during the testing phase. This is the first demonstration of threat-sensitive learning in an aquatic invertebrate.
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We thank Jean and Glen Chivers for their help and support and for letting us invade once again their wetlands for the duration of our field season. Research funding was provided to F. Messier and D. Chivers through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. All work reported was in accordance with the Animal Care Committee Protocol # 20060014 from the University of Saskatchewan.
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