Thursday, July 29, 2010

Socializing Makes Thick-Skinned Fish

ResearchBlogging.orgCyprinid fishes (carps) show fright, or escape behaviour, when smelling alarm signals produced by conspecifics. These chemical alarm signals are found within special club cells and are released when these cells are ruptured. In nature, fish possessing the alarm club cells may become aware of a predator as it becomes labelled with the alarm pheromones when ingesting prey. In cyprinids it has been found that higher club cell densities exist in regions where there is a high abundance of predators. Higher club cell densities means the fish is able to produce a greater volume of alarm pheromones. Important when a predator could be lurking around any corner. The authors in this study hypothesized that club cell density is plastic in regards to predator presence.

For the study they raised crucian carp individually and in groups of four. For both rearing types, fish were exposed to the skin extracts of either conspecifics (alarm signals) or brown trout (without club cells), and provided food in either low or high food rations. Interestingly, they did not find an association with club cell density and the presence of an alarm pheromone or predator chemical cue. However, what they did find was that club cell density increased when fish were living in close quarters with conspecifics (ie group of four fish).

The data from this study suggests that group-raised fish are more chemically on guard than those raised singly. The data shows that club cell density can show a ten-fold increase through an increased feeding regime combined with group rearing. Club cell density is plastic and is likely to be controlled through internal physiological regulators such as blood androgen levels, but also through external regulators such as nutritional status and growth promoting factors via chemical sensing. But in the end it just makes sense to not spend growth energy on lots of alarm substances when there will be no one else around to heed your warning.
Stabell, O., & Vegusdal, A. (2010). Socializing makes thick-skinned individuals: on the density of epidermal alarm substance cells in cyprinid fish, the crucian carp (Carassius carassius) Journal of Comparative Physiology A DOI: 10.1007/s00359-010-0550-4

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