Shoaling with familiar individuals may have many benefits including enhanced escape responses or increased foraging efficiency. This study describes the results of two complimentary experiments. The first utilised a simple binary choice experiment to determine if rainbowfish (Melanotaenia spp.) preferred to shoal with familiar individuals or with strangers. The second experiment used a "free range" situation where familiar and unfamiliar individuals were free to intermingle and were then exposed to a predator threat. Like many other small species of fish, rainbowfish were capable of identifying and distinguishing between individuals and choose to preferentially associate with familiar individuals as opposed to strangers. Contrary to expectations, however, rainbowfish did not significantly increase their preference for familiar individuals in the presence of a stationary predator model. Griffiths [J Fish Biol (1997) 51:489-495] conducted similar studies under semi-natural conditions examining the shoaling preferences of European minnows and showed similar results. Both the current study and that of Griffiths were conducted using predator wary populations of fish. It is suggested that, in predator sympatric populations, the benefits of shoaling with familiar individuals are such that it always pays to stay close to familiar individuals even when the probability of predator attack is remote.
- Shoal mate choice