A four-questions perspective on public information use in sticklebacks (Gasterosteidae)

Michael Munro Webster, Laura Chouinard-Thuly, Gabor Herczeg, Jun Kitano, Riva Jyoti Riley, Sean Rogers, Michael D. Shapiro, Takahito Shikano, Kevin N. Laland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Whether learning primarily reflects general processes or species-specific challenges is a long-standing matter of dispute. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of public information use (PI-use) in sticklebacks (Gasterosteidae). PI-use is a form of social learning by which animals are able to assess the relative quality of resources, here prey patches, by observing the behaviour of others. PI-use was highly specific with only Pungitius and their closest relative Culaea inconstans showing evidence of PI-use. We saw no effects of ontogenetic experience upon PI-use in Pungitius pungitius. Experiments with live demonstrators and animated fish revealed that heightened activity and feeding strikes by foraging conspecifics are important cues in the transmission of PI. Finally, PI-use was the only form of learning in which P. pungitius and another stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus differed. PI-use in sticklebacks is species-specific and may represent an ‘ecological specialization’ for social foraging. Whether this reflects selection on perception, attentional or cognitive processes remains to be determined.
Original languageEnglish
Article number181735
Number of pages24
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2019


  • Social learning
  • Social information
  • Foraging
  • Cognition


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