No evidence for individual recognition in threespine or ninespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus or Pungitius pungitius)

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Recognition plays an important role in the formation and organization of animal groups. Many animals are capable of class-level recognition, discriminating, for example, on the basis of species, kinship or familiarity. Individual recognition requires that animals recognize distinct cues, and learn to associate these with the specific individual from which they are derived. In this study, we asked whether sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus and Pungitius pungitius) were capable of learning to recognize individual conspecifics. We have used these fish as model organisms for studying selective social learning, and demonstrating a capacity for individual recognition in these species would provide an exciting opportunity for studying how biases for copying specific individuals shape the dynamics of information transmission. To test for individual recognition, we trained subjects to associate green illumination with the provision of a food reward close to one of two conspecifics, and, for comparison, one of two physical landmarks. Both species were capable of recognizing the rewarded landmark, but neither showed a preference for associating with the rewarded conspecific. Our study provides no evidence for individual recognition in either species. We speculate that the fission–fusion structure of their social groups may not favour a capacity for individual recognition.
Original languageEnglish
Article number191703
Number of pages10
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2020


  • Cognition
  • Learning
  • Schooling
  • Shoaling
  • social information
  • Social learning


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