Use of water flow direction to provide spatial information in a small-scale orientation task

V. A. Braithwaite, J. R. Girvan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Experiments were designed to investigate whether three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus can use direction of water flow as an orientation cue. The fish had to learn the location of a food patch in a channel where water flow direction was the only reliable indicator of the food patch position. Fish from two ponds and two rivers were trained and tested in the spatial task to determine whether river three-spined sticklebacks are more adept at using water flow as a spatial cue than fish from ponds. All fish were able to use water flow to locate the food patch but one of the two river groups was significantly faster at learning the patch location. When the task was reversed so that fish that had formerly been trained to swim downstream now had to learn to swim upstream and vice versa both river groups learned the reversed task faster than the two pond groups. In a second experiment, to investigate whether fish from ponds or rivers vary in the type of spatial cue that they prefer to use, fish from one pond and one river were given a choice between two different types of spatial cue: flow direction or visual landmarks. A test trial in which these two cues were put into conflict revealed that the river population showed a strong preference for flow direction whilst the pond population preferred to use visual landmarks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-83
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Fish Biology
Issue numberSUPPL. A
StatePublished - Dec 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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