Fish warn via chemical about a possible threat

New Delhi: Fish warn each other about danger by releasing chemicals into the water as a signal, research by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has found. The USask researchers discovered that wild fish release chemicals called “disturbance cues” to signal to other fish about nearby dangers, such as predators.

The findings may have implications for fish conservation efforts across the globe. “Disturbance cues may help to explain why some fish populations crash after they decline past a certain point,” said Kevin Bairos-Novak, a graduate student member of the research team.

While researchers have been aware that fish release chemicals into the water for 30 years, this is the first time their use has been studied. The findings, involving researchers from the USask biology department and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, are published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Fish signalled most when in the presence of familiar fish, but signaled far less or not at all when in the presence of strangers, or when on their own. The signals provoked a “fright response” in fish they knew, including freezing, dashing about and then shoaling tightly together. Fish use this behavior to defend themselves against predators.

“When minnows were present alongside familiar minnows, they were much more likely to produce signals that initiated close grouping of nearby fish, a strategy used to avoid being eaten by predators,” said Bairos-Novak, who is now at James Cook University, Australia.

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