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Front. Ecol. Evol. | doi: 10.3389/fevo.2018.00214

Learning to overcome evolutionary history: Can an endangered fish learn to fear an introduced predator?

 Sarah Farnsley1, 2,  Bernard Kuhajda3, Anna George3 and  Hope Klug1, 2*
  • 1Biology, Geology, & Environmental Science, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, United States
  • 2SimCenter, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, United States
  • 3Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, United States

Rapid environmental change has led to unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss. One source of rapid environmental change involves the introduction of non-native species. In many cases, lack of evolutionary history with introduced species means that native species lack adaptive responses to avoid predation by introduced species. Understanding how native species can persist with introduced species has been a major focus of biological research. In some cases, learning can allow native individuals to acclimate when faced with introduced species. However, we lack a comprehensive understanding of whether learning can allow individuals to overcome a lack of evolutionarily engrained behavior in relation to non-native species. Here, we illustrate that in some cases individuals can potentially learn to overcome a lack of evolutionarily engrained anti-predator behavior when faced with a novel predator and be conditioned to avoid predation. Specifically, by pairing an aversive stimulus with the presence of an introduced, novel fish predator and measuring behavioral and survival effects, we demonstrate that an endangered fish species, the Barrens Topminnow (BTM), Fundulus julisia, can learn to exhibit anti-predator behavior towards an introduced predator. This anti-predator behavior potentially increases survival in the wild. In addition, our findings suggest that BTM adjust their behavior in response to chondroitin sulfate, suggesting that this chemical might function as an alarm cue in this species.

Keywords: Learning, adaptation, acclimation, invasive species, Barrens topminnow

Received: 06 Jun 2018; Accepted: 28 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Ann V. Hedrick, University of California, Davis, United States

Reviewed by:

Paul C. Sikkel, Arkansas State University, United States
Adam Crane, University of Saskatchewan, Canada  

Copyright: © 2018 Farnsley, Kuhajda, George and Klug. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Hope Klug, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Biology, Geology, & Environmental Science, Chattanooga, United States,