On plasticity of aggression: influence of past and present predation risk, social environment and sex
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Behaviours are phenotypically very plastic traits, allowing fast changes and fine-tuning of trait expression in response to situational demands. Aggression is a behaviour for which the right decisions can have immediate fitness consequences. Hence, the right behavioural decision is expected to be influenced by both past experience and the current environment. Using a factorial common garden experiment, we tested how past and presently perceived predation risk, as well as the social environment during development, and sex affected two components of intraspecific aggression (viz. hesitation to attack and attack intensity) in a social fish species, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Exposure to predator cues during development affected how fish responded to actual predation risk: exposed fish hesitated more, while predator-naive fish attacked more in the presence of predators. Sociality also had a strong effect: fish grown in pairs hesitated less than fish grown in solitude or in shoals, whereas solitary-grown fish attacked more than conspecific-experienced (i.e. pair or shoal reared) fish. Female aggression was even across the different developmental environments and lower than that of males. Predator- and conspecific-naive males were more aggressive than other males, suggesting that males have high innate aggression levels that are mediated by environmental risk. The results demonstrate complex underpinnings to plasticity-driven behavioural variation and draw attention to the fact that interpretations of presence/absence of an expected behavioural response may be difficult if it is influenced by both past and present environmental conditions.
KeywordsBehavioural plasticity Development Gasterosteus Predation Sociality Stickleback
We thank Marika Hölttä and Mirva Turtiainen for their help in obtaining the broodstock as well for help during the fish rearing. Kirsi Kähkönen and Sami Karja kindly helped with the lab work, and Jacquelin DeFaveri provided comments that improved an earlier version of this manuscript. We are also indebted to three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. The experiment was supported by the Academy of Finland (grants 129662, 134728 and 218343 to JM; grant 128716 to GH) and the University of Putra Malaysia (to INAG). GH was supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund (grant OTKA-K 105517) and the János Bólyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences during analyses and writing. The experiments were conducted under the licence (no. STH211A) from the Finnish National Animal Experiment Board.
Compliance with ethical standards
All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted. The experiments were conducted under the licence (no. STH211A) from the Finnish National Animal Experiment Board.
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