Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 7, pp 1123–1129 | Cite as

Ontogenetic differences in chemical alarm cue production determine antipredator responses and learned predator recognition

  • Matthew D. MitchellEmail author
  • Mark I. McCormick
Original Paper


How individuals assess, respond and subsequently learn from alarm cues is crucial to their survival and future fitness. Yet this information is not constant through time; many individuals are exposed to different predators throughout their life as they outgrow some predators or move to habitats containing different predators. To maximise overall fitness, individuals should discriminate between different cues and respond and learn from only those that are relevant to their current ontogenetic stage. We tested whether juvenile spiny chromis, Acanthochromis polyacanthus, could distinguish between chemical alarm cues from conspecific donors of different ontogenetic stages and whether the cue ontogenetic stage of the cue donor affected the efficacy of learning about predators. Juveniles displayed a significant antipredator response when conditioned with juvenile chemical alarm cues paired with predator odour but failed to respond when conditioned with predator odour paired with either adult alarm cues or with saltwater. Subsequently, individuals only recognised the predator odour alone as a threat when conditioned with juvenile alarm cues. This demonstrates that prey may be highly specific in how they use information from conspecific alarm cues, selectively responding to and learning from only those cues that are relevant to their developmental stage.


Predator recognition Learning Ontogeny Threat sensitivity Coral reefs Fish 



We would like to thank the staff at the JCU MARFU aquarium facility for their assistance and Christopher Goatley for providing comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Funding was provided by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (MIM).

Ethical standards

This research complies with current laws of Australia and was undertaken with approval of the James Cook University animal ethics committee (permit: A1067) and according to the University’s animal ethics guidelines.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical BiologyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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