Olfactory cue use by three-spined sticklebacks foraging in turbid water: prey detection or prey location?

Asa Johannesen, Alison M. Dunn, Lesley J. Morrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Foraging, when senses are limited to olfaction, is composed of two distinct stages: the detection of prey and the location of prey. While specialist olfactory foragers are able to locate prey using olfactory cues alone, this may not be the case for foragers that rely primarily on vision. Visual predators in aquatic systems may be faced with poor visual conditions such as natural or human-induced turbidity. The ability of visual predators to compensate for poor visual conditions by using other senses is not well understood, although it is widely accepted that primarily visual fish, such as three-spined sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus, can detect and use olfactory cues for a range of purposes. We investigated the ability of sticklebacks to detect the presence of prey and to locate prey precisely, using olfaction, in clear and turbid (two levels) water. When provided with only a visual cue, or only an olfactory cue, sticklebacks showed a similar ability to detect prey, but a combination of these cues improved their performance. In open-arena foraging trials, a dispersed olfactory cue added to the water (masking cues from the prey) improved foraging success, contrary to our expectations, whereas activity levels and swimming speed did not change as a result of olfactory cue availability. We suggest that olfaction functions to allow visual predators to detect rather than locate prey and that olfactory cues have an appetitive effect, enhancing motivation to forage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-158
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • olfaction
  • predator–prey interactions
  • three-spined stickleback
  • turbidity
  • vision


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