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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 307:199-208 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps307199

Fishes learn aversions to a nudibranch’s chemical defense

Jeremy D. Long, Mark E. Hay*

School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, 310 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30332-0230, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: The nudibranch Doriopsilla pharpa was rejected as food when tethered in the field and when offered to 2 species of co-occurring crabs (the lesser blue crab Callinectes similus and the mud crab Panopeus herbstii) and 2 species of co-occurring fishes (the mummichog Fundulus heteroclitus and the striped blenny Chasmodes bosquianus) in the laboratory. When the fishes were offered squid-based artificial food containing nudibranch extracts (i.e. defended food), both species initially consumed this food, but rapidly developed aversions in subsequent feedings. Although both fishes rapidly learned to reject the food, they learned using different cues. The striped blenny Chasmodes bosquianus regurgitated following the initial feeding and then avoided all food made of squid regardless of whether or not it contained the extract. In contrast, the mummichog Fundulus heteroclitus did not regurgitate, and learned to avoid only food containing the extract; it still consumed squid-based food without the extract. Thus, the mummichog detected the deterrent chemical and avoided only defended food while the striped blenny was a less effective feeder, avoiding both defended and undefended food that tasted like squid. Bioassay-guided separation using the mummichog demonstrated that the sesquiterpene polygodial was responsible for the deterrent effects of the nudibranch extract. This metabolite also resulted in the striped blenny avoiding either squid- or tuna-based food treated with this metabolite.

KEY WORDS: Fish behavior · Predator–prey interactions · Chemical ecology · Oyster reef

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