A test of the senses: fish select novel habitats by responding to multiple cues

Ecology. 2012 Jan;93(1):46-55. doi: 10.1890/10-2236.1.


Habitat-specific cues play an important role in orientation for animals that move through a mosaic of habitats. Environmental cues can be imprinted upon during early life stages to guide later return to adult habitats, yet many species must orient toward suitable habitats without previous experience of the habitat. It is hypothesized that multiple sensory cues may enable animals to differentiate between habitats in a sequential order relevant to the spatial scales over which the different types of information are conveyed, but previous research, especially for marine organisms, has mainly focused on the use of single cues in isolation. In this study, we investigated novel habitat selection through the use of three different sensory modalities (hearing, vision, and olfaction). Our model species, the French grunt, Haemulon flavolineatum, is a mangrove/seagrass-associated reef fish species that makes several habitat transitions during early life. Using several in situ and ex situ experiments, we tested the response of fish toward auditory, olfactory, and visual cues from four different habitats (seagrass beds, mangroves, rubble, and coral reef). We identified receptivity to multiple sensory cues during the same life phase, and found that different cues induced different reactions toward the same habitat. For example, early-juvenile fish only responded to sound from coral reefs and to chemical cues from mangroves/seagrass beds, while visual cues of conspecifics overruled olfactory cues from mangrove/seagrass water. Mapping these preferences to the ecology of ontogenetic movements, our results suggest sequential cue use would indeed aid successful orientation to novel key habitats in early life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Perciformes / physiology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*