Humans aren’t the only ones who bond over food

Written by on April 6, 2016 in Fish, Marine Life

New research from the University of Lincoln shows that some fish prefer to swim with other fish that eat the same food, rather than swim with other members of their own species.

Nine-spined stickleback. Photo: commons.

Nine-spined stickleback. Photo: commons.

Researchers, led by Tanja Kleinhappel, a PhD researcher in the School of Life Sciences, caught several three-spined sticklebacks and nine-spined sticklebacks from the wild. In natural conditions, these two species live in the same area and occasionally swim together (shoal). In order to determine how food influences group structures, the researchers modified their diets in controlled settings.

When both species were placed in the same group and fed different types of food, the three-spined sticklebacks were more likely to associate with fish that ate the same food as they did, regardless of the species. However, when all fish were fed the same food, the three-spined sticklebacks showed no preference for their own species.

These findings highlight the importance of chemical cues, which are known to play a role in group bonds between members of different species.

“We don’t believe that the observed shoaling behaviour of the fish is controlled by visual or other non-dietary cues that are specific to a particular species,” Tanja explained.

Because the fish were all unfamiliar to each other, she explained that the behavior is most likely due to the familiarity of chemical cues as a result of diet.

“Associating with fish that smell the same might be all about food and protection. By associating with others that share the same preference for particular types of food, a fish ensures that it has enough to eat. Being surrounded by similar-smelling fish also protects an individual against predators that use certain chemical search patterns to detect prey.”

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Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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