Does humic acid alter visually and chemically guided foraging in stickleback fish?

Anim Cogn. 2020 Jan;23(1):101-108. doi: 10.1007/s10071-019-01319-5. Epub 2019 Oct 16.


Sensory systems function under the influence of multiple, interacting environmental properties. When environments change, so may perception through one or more sensory systems, as alterations in transmission properties may change how organisms obtain and use information. Humic acids, a natural and anthropogenically produced class of chemicals, have attributes that may change chemical and visual environments of aquatic animals, potentially with detrimental consequences on their ability to locate necessary resources. Here, we explore how environmental disturbance affects the way threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) use visual and olfactory information during foraging. We compared foraging behavior using visual, olfactory, and bimodal (visual and olfactory) information in the presence and absence of humic acids. We found evidence that humic acids reduced olfactory-based food detection. While visual perception was not substantially impaired by humic acids, the visual sense alone did not compensate for the loss of olfactory perception. These findings suggest that a suite of senses still may not be capable of compensating for the loss of information from individual modalities. Thus, senses may react disparately to rapid environmental change, and thereby push species into altered evolutionary trajectories.

Keywords: Habitat change; Humic acid; Multimodal shift; Olfaction; Vision.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fishes
  • Humic Substances
  • Olfactory Perception*
  • Smegmamorpha*
  • Smell


  • Humic Substances