Cichlid fish use coloration as a cue to assess the threat status of heterospecific intruders

Topi Lehtonen, Will Sowersby, Karine Gagnon, Bob B M Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to assess the threat posed by competitors, and to respond appropriately, is important for reducing the costs of aggression. In this respect, aggression directed toward heterospecifics is often just as significant as aggression among conspecifics. This is especially true for cichlid fish that share breeding grounds with heterospecifics. Indeed, cichlids are known to differentiate not only between conspecifics that pose different levels of threat but also between heterospecific territorial intruders by directing more aggression toward nonbreeding individuals. To assess whether the ability to make such distinctions could be based on color cues alone, we carried out a field study in which we experimentally presented Amphilophus sagittae cichlid pairs with model intruders of a sympatric congener, Amphilophus xiloaensis, in breeding versus nonbreeding coloration. Consistent with our prediction, we found that A. sagittae exhibited more aggression toward A. xiloaensis models of the latter color type. The results are, to our knowledge, the first to show that territory holders can, based on coloration alone, assess variation among individuals of a species other than their own in the threat posed to offspring survival.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)547–552
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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