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A test of the senses in the search for a shoal mate
Date:3/10/2012

Ever had to find your friend in a crowd? Imagine at a festival your mate saying: "I'll be wearing a yellow t-shirt by the hotdog stall behind the jazz stage." Using this information, you could walk around listening out for the romping double bass, and as you get closer and start to hear the trills of the trumpet, begin to sniff out the frying onions and sizzling sausages. Once you have located the hotdog stand, you only need to look for a bright yellow t-shirt and you will find your friend. Young coral reef fish use the same strategy, research from the Radboud University Nijmegen and the University of Bristol has found.

By testing how young French grunts (a common fish in Curaao and throughout the Caribbean) responded to local sounds, smells and visual cues, the researchers have unlocked, for the first time, the mystery of how centimetre-long juvenile fish can navigate from the high seas to find their shoal mates in amongst the roots of mangrove trees or blades of seagrass.

First the team tested which habitat noises the fish were attracted to using auditory choice chambers. They found that newly-settled fish, just returned to the coast after developing in the plankton for several weeks, were most attracted to recordings of coral reefs. But these fish don't set up home on coral reefs, which can be dangerous places for a young fish. Instead they seek the relative safety of nursery grounds in the mangroves and seagrass beds where they will grow for the first few months.

The second experiment tested which habitat smells the fish were attracted to using olfactory mazes shaped like a 'Y'. In contrast to the hearing study, the fish were attracted not to the smells of coral reefs, but to the smells of the muddy soft-sediment habitats of seagrass and mangroves.

Dr Chantal Huijbers of the Radboud University Nijmegen said: "It seems that to find shore the fish use coral reef noise, which is the loudest habitat noise and can be
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Contact: Hannah Johnson
hannah.johnson@bristol.ac.uk
44-117-928-8896
University of Bristol
Source:Eurekalert

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