Your plaice or mine? Male fish refuse to ask for directions

Sep 07, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Male fish are so stubborn that they refuse to ask for directions, especially when they are ready to reproduce.

According to the latest research, when male fish are in a reproductive state, they turn into anti-social feeders that take bigger risks by leaving the shoal behind.

The new study, by scientists at the University of St Andrews, is one of the first to reveal a sex difference in how animals learn from each other. The fact that it is only seen in male fish when they are breeding may be related to the different pressures faced by the sexes when reproducing.

Dr Mike Webster and Professor Kevin Laland set out to examine the learning and copying behaviour of the ninespine stickleback... with surprising results.

Like many other animals, fish are capable of learning valuable information about their surroundings from each other. The ninespine stickleback in particular is a fish known to be capable of sophisticated social learning behaviour, gathering and using information from others about the location and quality of food resources.

Yet during the recent study, the St Andrews team found the male of the species spurns such information when in the mood for love. Rather than use their usual reliance on information available from others, they did the exact opposite - leaving the safety of the shoal to hunt alone for food reserves. Surprisingly, taking the risk was more likely to yield positive results.

The researchers say that the research will allow better understanding of the conditions that gave rise to the evolution of the sophisticated learning seen in other animals and humans.

Dr Webster explained, “Over the last few years we have learned the surprising extent of the cognitive capabilities of many species of fish, and recent research has shown that rather than blindly copying others, fish are selective in when they copy and even who they learn from.

“Reproductive males seem to behave in a way which courts risk; they are more active, spend more time in the open and spend less time shoaling with others. However this may be adaptive if it allows them to forage more efficiently.”

The behaviour of the was a complete contrast to egg-laden females, who instead increased their reliance upon information from others. They spent more time in the areas where they had seen others feeding at a high rate and they were less likely to switch between feeding grounds to investigate them for themselves.

The researchers suggest that the extra weight of eggs is likely to slow females down as well as make them more obvious to predators. By copying others and sticking to the shoal, they save energy and lessen the likelihood of encountering a predator.

The males on the other hand need to source food reserves so that they can spend as much time guarding and raising their young as possible.

Professor Laland commented, “While copying others is less risky, it can also be less accurate, compared to collecting firsthand information. The hormonal changes that cause a male to enter his reproductive phase may also be responsible for this transition to more antisocial behaviour.”

“This work will allow us to better understand conditions that gave rise to the of the sophisticated learning seen in animals and humans.”

Dr Webster added, “We are all familiar with the stereotype of males refusing to ask for directions - this might apply to too, but only when they are preparing to breed.”

The research is published by Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B- Biological Sciences.

Explore further: Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Provided by University of St Andrews

4 /5 (2 votes)

Related Stories

Follow that prawn

Dec 17, 2007

A new study from the University of Leicester reveals that prawns can be used by fish species to find the best places to eat.

Piddling fish face off threat of competition

Dec 12, 2007

Research published today in the online open access journal, BMC Biology, shows that male tilapia fish use pheromones in their urine to fight off competitors and enforce social dominance.

Do female guppies risk their lives to avoid sex?

Jun 08, 2006

Sexual harassment is burden that females of many species face, and some may go to extreme lengths to avoid it. In a paper published in The American Naturalist, Dr Darren Croft from the University of Wales, Bangor and a rese ...

Recommended for you

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

16 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

18 hours ago

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

18 hours ago

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.