Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 4, pp 667–673 | Cite as

Shoaling fish can size-assort by chemical cues alone

  • Ashley J. W. WardEmail author
  • Suzanne Currie
Original Paper


Animals that form groups are typically assorted by phenotype. For example, fish shoals are notably composed of closely size-matched individuals, yet the sensory mechanisms that promote this behaviour have not been fully determined. Here, we show that two freshwater shoaling fish species, three-spined stickleback and banded killifish, have a greater preference for the chemical cues of conspecifics that are the same size as themselves than for those of larger or smaller conspecifics. We suggest that this ability to determine their own size relative to conspecifics may be based on chemical self-referencing. This provides a novel insight to the mechanisms underlying a widespread phenomenon in social behaviour, and provides further evidence of the crucial role played by chemical cues in structuring the interactions of fishes.


Shoaling Schooling Sociality Olfaction Sensory ecology 



The authors would like to thank Professor Theo Bakker, the associate editor, Dr Jo Frommen, and two anonymous reviews for comments which greatly improved this manuscript.

Ethical standards

All experiments reported here comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of BiologyMount Allison UniversitySackvilleCanada

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