Sensory environment affects Icelandic threespine stickleback’s anti-predator escape behaviour

Murielle Ålund, Brooke Harper, Sigurlaug Kjærnested, Julian E. Ohl, John G. Phillips, Jessica Sattler, Jared Thompson, Javier E. Varg, Sven Wargenau, Janette W. Boughman, Jason Keagy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Human-induced changes in climate and habitats push populations to adapt to novel environments, including new sensory conditions, such as reduced visibility. We studied how colonizing newly formed glacial lakes with turbidity-induced low-visibility affects anti-predator behaviour in Icelandic threespine sticklebacks. We tested nearly 400 fish from 15 populations and four habitat types varying in visibility and colonization history in their reaction to two predator cues (mechano-visual versus olfactory) in high versus low-visibility light treatments. Fish reacted differently to the cues and were affected by lighting environment, confirming that cue modality and light levels are important for predator detection and evasion. Fish from spring-fed lakes, especially from the highlands (likely more diverged from marine fish than lowland fish), reacted fastest to mechano-visual cues and were generally most active. Highland glacial fish showed strong responses to olfactory cues and, counter to predictions from the flexible stem hypothesis, the greatest plasticity in response to light levels. This study, leveraging natural, repeated invasions of novel sensory habitats, (i) illustrates rapid changes in anti-predator behaviour that follow due to adaptation, early life experience, or both, and (ii) suggests an additional role for behavioural plasticity enabling population persistence in the face of frequent changes in environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220044
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1972
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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