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Animal Cognition

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 1125–1131 | Cite as

Quantification acuity in spontaneous shoaling decisions of three-spined sticklebacks

  • Marion Mehlis
  • Timo ThünkenEmail author
  • Theo C. M. Bakker
  • Joachim G. FrommenEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

The ability to discriminate between different quantities is widespread throughout the animal kingdom, and the underlying mechanisms of quantity discrimination are currently intensely discussed. In contrast, questions elucidating the limits of quantity estimation received rather little attention so far. Here, we examined fine-tuned quantity estimation in the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in a natural context, i.e. during shoaling decisions. Wild-caught focal fish were given the spontaneous choice between two shoals which differed in group size by 1 fish (0 vs. 1, 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 3, 3 vs. 4, 4 vs. 5, 5 vs. 6 and 6 vs. 7), based on visual assessment. The results show that sticklebacks generally prefer to shoal with the larger group. They discriminated numerical contrasts up to 6 versus 7, equalling a numerical ratio of 0.86. Preference patterns followed Weber’s law, i.e. decreased with increasing numerical ratio. This pattern was found across all numerical conditions as well as within the small number range (ranging from 1 vs. 2 to 3 vs. 4). The results suggest that wild-caught three-spined sticklebacks are spontaneously able (i.e. without prior learning) to detect subtle differences in shoal sizes. Further, they confirm findings of previous studies highlighting the contribution of the analogue magnitude system to quantity estimation in fishes.

Keywords

Counting Fishes Gasterosteus aculeatus Numerical abilities Shoaling Weber’s law 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Rebecca Deutsch, Nicole Ehrenfried, Kathrin Kunz and Juliana Monteiro for their help in conducting the experiments. We thank Ken Cheng and anonymous referees for useful comments on the manuscript. TT was funded by SNF Grant No. 31003A_144191 provided to JGF.

Ethical standard

The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Evolutionary Biology and EcologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  2. 2.Department of Behavioural Ecology, Institute of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of BerneHinterkappelenSwitzerland

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