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The effect of familiarity on aggregation and social behaviour in juvenile small spotted catsharks Scyliorhinus canicula

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This study was designed to address whether juvenile small spotted catsharks Scyliorhinus canicula aggregate and to determine whether potential aggregation is underpinned by social preferences for conspecifics. Using controlled and replicated experiments, the role of familiarity as a potential mechanism driving aggregation and social behaviour in this species was considered. Observed S. canicula association data compared to null model simulations of random distributions revealed differences in aggregation under different social contexts. Only familiar juvenile S. canicula aggregated more than would be expected from random distribution across their habitat. Familiarity increased the mean number of groups but did not significantly affect mean group size. Significant preference and avoidance behaviour across all groups were also observed. Furthermore, the strength of social attraction, quantified by the mean association index, was significantly higher in groups containing familiar individuals. Mixed familiar and unfamiliar treatments were also conducted to test for within‐ and between‐group effects, finding high variation across replicates with some groups assorting by familiarity and others not. It is believed that this study is the first to examine experimentally the influence of conspecific familiarity on aggregation behaviour in sharks. These results not only imply a functional benefit to aggregation, but also suggest that persistent social affiliation is likely to influence dispersal following hatching in this small benthic elasmobranch.

Document Type: Regular Paper


Publication date: October 1, 2012

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