Social context is a powerful mediator of behavioral decisions across animal taxa, as the presence of conspecifics comes with both costs and benefits. In risky situations, the safety conferred by the presence of conspecifics can outweigh the costs of competition for resources. How the costs and benefits of grouping influence decisions among alternative antipredator behaviors remains largely unexplored. We took advantage of the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata) to examine the influence of social context on alternative behavioral responses to threats. We compared the frequency of active (startle) versus passive (freeze) responses to sudden acoustic stimuli in the presence and absence of conspecifics. We found that fish were relatively less likely to startle and more likely to freeze when in a group than when alone, indicating that immediate social context modulates predator evasion strategy in guppies. We suggest that these social context-dependent changes reflect trade-offs between survival and energy expenditure. To our knowledge, an effect of immediate social environment on startle probability has not been previously demonstrated in a teleost.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Behavioral strategy
- Poecilia reticulata
- Social context