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Risk of predation as a promoting factor of species divergence in threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.)

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Icelandic freshwater systems are geologically young and contain only six species of freshwater fish. As these species colonized Icelandic fresh waters they were presented with a diversity of unique, uncontested habitats and food resources, promoting the evolution of new behaviour strategies crucial to the formation of new morphs and speciation. To determine the likelihood that predation threat could affect the antipredator behaviour and possibly the sympatric divergence of prey populations, we analysed antipredator behaviour of seven groups of Icelandic threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus): two marine groups, one group from a lake without piscine predators, and two polymorphic lake populations, each with two groups occupying unique habitats. Shoaling cohesion, school formation and duration, and vigilance in predator inspection/avoidance behaviour varied greatly among groups. The differences appeared to be related to the risk of predation as well as to opportunities and constraints set by the different habitats. Antipredator behaviour was especially pronounced and differed extensively in two polymorphic forms from the lake Thingvallavatn, where predation risk is very high. By keeping the two morphs separate in their respective habitats, high predation risk may be a contributing factor in promoting the habitat-specific divergence of G. aculeatus seen in the lake. This suggests that in situations where refuge habitats are spatially separated, the risk of predation may contribute to the evolution of separate sympatric forms of small fish such as G. aculeatus. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 82, 189–203.
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Keywords: adaptation; antipredator behaviour; apparent competition; inspection; schooling; shoaling; speciation; startle response; sympatric

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Hólar College, Hólar, Hjaltadal, 551 SauD arkrokur, Iceland 2: Institute of Biology, University of Iceland, Grensásvegur 11, 108 Reykjavik, Iceland

Publication date: 2004-06-01

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