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Innate and Learned Colour Preference in the Zebrafish, Danio rerio

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Receiver biases towards specific sensory signals have been demonstrated in insects, birds and fish, both in the context of foraging and mate choice. In some cases, signals important in sexual selection appear to have evolved by exploiting a pre-existing bias in the sensory system. For instance, female preferences for male nuptial colouration may have arisen from selection on foraging practices. Using the zebrafish (Danio rerio), a species in which red is not a factor in mate choice, we tested for a foraging bias towards the colour red. We further investigated the plasticity of foraging biases by raising groups of fish on diets consisting solely of red, blue, green or white food. When we subsequently tested their colour preferences in a foraging context, each group responded most strongly to red, irrespective of the colour of food with which they had been conditioned. We also detected a significant effect of conditioning on colour preferences; fish responded more strongly to the colour that matched diet colour than to other colours. The observed receiver bias towards red may have evolved as an adaptive preference for carotenoid compounds in their diet. While the bias to red appears to be innate, our results indicate that learning is also important in shaping foraging biases.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2008


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