Male sticklebacks won't ask for directions

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Breeding male Nine spine sticklebacks refuse to ask for directions to good feeding areas and and so take greater risks by foraging away from the shoal, new research suggests.

Scientists from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland have already shown the Nine spine stickleback, Pungitius pungitius, to be capable of comparatively advanced social learning behaviour by collecting and using information from other fish in their group about the whereabouts and quality of food sources.

The sticklebacks also exhibited the ability to select which fish they copy as well as when rather than blindly following the shoal. The latest research has gone further and may be one of the first studies to reveal the different ways male and female animals learn.

Picture by Piet Spaans, Creative Commons.

When the male fish were ready to breed, they ditched their usual dependence on other fish for information and instead did the opposite and left the safety of their group to hunt alone for food.

This behaviour is the complete opposite to that of the egg-laden females who become increasingly reliant on shared information on feeding sites, spending more time where they had seen other fish feeding and less looking for new food sources.

It is thought that breeding males take greater risks as it allowed them to forage more efficiently, building up food reserves so they could spend more time guarding and rearing their fry later if they breed successfully.

On the other hand the females low risk strategy allowed them to save energy and lessened the chance of predation.