Fish avoid visually noisy environments where prey targeting is reduced

Joanna R. Attwell*, Christos C. Ioannou, Chris R. Reid, James E. Herbert-Read

*Corresponding author for this work

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The environment contains different forms of ecological noise that can reduce the ability of animals to detect information. Here, we ask whether animals adapt their behavior to either exploit or avoid areas of their environment with increased dynamic visual noise. Three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) were immersed in environments with a simulated form of naturally occurring visual noise— moving light bands that form on underwater substrates caused by the refraction of light through surface waves. We tested whether this form of visual noise affected fish’s habitat selection, movements, and prey-targeting behavior. Fish avoided areas of the environment with increased visual noise and achieved this by increasing their activity as a function of the locally perceived noise level. Fish were less likely to respond to virtual prey in environments with increased visual noise, highlighting a potential impact that visual noise has on their perceptual abilities. Fish did not increase or decrease their refuge use in environments with increased visual noise, providing no evidence that visual noise increased either exploratory or risk-aversive behavior. Our results indicate that animals can use simple behavioral strategies to avoid visually noisy environments, thereby mitigating the impacts that these environments appear to have on their perceptual abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-432
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
Early online date12 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The University of Chicago. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Caustics
  • Environmental noise
  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Perception
  • Virtual prey


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