Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 7, pp 1033–1040 | Cite as

Socially acquired predator recognition in complex ecosystems

  • R. P. ManassaEmail author
  • M. I. McCormick
  • D. P. Chivers
Original Paper


Social animals acquire information on predator identities through social learning, where individuals with no prior experience learn from experienced members of the group. However, a large amount of uncertainty is often associated with socially acquired information especially in cases of cross-species learning. Theory predicts that socially acquired information from heterospecifics should take more repetitions to develop in complex ecosystems where the number of participants is greater. Our work focuses on coral reef fish as their social and communal lifestyles, along with their complex life histories, make them an ideal model to test for socially acquired predator recognition. Specifically, we tested if Pomacentrus wardi were capable of transmitting the recognition of an unknown predator, Pseudochromis fuscus, to closely related Pomacentrus moluccensis and phylogenetically distant Apogon trimaculatus. Individuals of both species were able to learn the predator's identity from experienced P. wardi based on a single conditioning event. It is somewhat surprising how fast social learning occurred particularly for the distantly related cardinalfish. This study demonstrates the widespread nature of social learning as a method of predator recognition in biologically complex ecosystems, and highlights that the benefits of responding to uncertain information may override the costs associated with lost foraging opportunities.


Social learning Coral reef fish Phylogenetic relatedness Complex ecosystems 



We thank O. Lönnstedt, J. White and R. Brooker for assistance in the field and O. Lönnstedt and D. Dixson for providing useful comments on a draft of the manuscript. We also thank P. Manassa for his artistic contribution. This study was funded through the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Ethical standards

The experiment was performed in accordance with the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Code of Practise for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 7th Edition, 2004: (the Code) and in compliance with the Queensland Animal Care and Protection Act, 2001 (Act no. 64 of 2001) (the Act) and James Cook University guidelines under approval A1067.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. P. Manassa
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. I. McCormick
    • 1
  • D. P. Chivers
    • 2
  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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