Published: 8 July 2014 at 15:53
Research by Anglia Ruskin scientist examines the social behaviour of sticklebacks
Many people follow recommendations from their friends to find the best places to eat – and new research has shown that fish do the same.
The study by scientists at Anglia Ruskin University, the University of St Andrews and McMaster University in Canada has discovered that familiarity between members of a shoal of sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) affects both social organisation and the discovery of food.
The researchers caught 80 three-spined sticklebacks, a common native species found in rivers across the UK. The sticklebacks were separated into two groups for six weeks, which is enough time for them to develop recognition of their group mates. They were then tagged and videoed as they were set tasks to discover new food locations.
The results show that familiarity between shoal members had a clear effect on their ability to find food, with sticklebacks more likely to discover the food source if a member of the same shoal had also previously found it.
The mechanism by which familiarity affects behaviour in fish is not fully clear, although the scientists believe it may reflect a bias for observing, or more strongly responding to, the behaviour of familiar individuals.
Dr William Hoppitt, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Anglia Ruskin University, said: