Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 2, pp 223–230 | Cite as

Social facilitation of exploration in mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)

  • Ashley J. W. Ward
Original Paper


The social environment can exert a powerful influence on the expression of an individual’s behaviour patterns. For example, social facilitation occurs where individuals are more likely to express a given behaviour, or express it a greater rate, in the presence of conspecifics. Social facilitation is partly driven by an individual’s perception of risk, which is a function both of the size of its social group and the information that it gathers relating to predator activity and risk. Here I tested the effects of social group size (one, two, four, eight or 16 fish) and the presence of ‘social’, ‘predation’ or ‘neutral’ chemical cues (derived respectively from live conspecifics, injured conspecifics or a blank water control) on the exploratory behaviour of juvenile mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) in a novel environment. Focal fish in larger groups explored a greater proportion of the arena during the course of the experiment, demonstrating social facilitation of exploration. After 4 h in the arena, focal fish in all group sizes showed significantly reduced swimming activity, suggesting that the initial faster swimming activity of fish on entry to the arena may be in response to the motivation to explore. The presence of predation cues in the environment had the effect of reducing exploratory behaviour across groups in a novel environment, whereas social cues had no effect on exploratory behaviour. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that there is a high degree of context dependency in the expression of exploratory behaviour, with a strong influence of both the presence of conspecifics and cues relating to potential danger.


Sociality Shoaling Social information Alarm cues 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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