Animals must avoid predation to survive and reproduce, and there is increasing evidence that man-made (anthropogenic) factors can influence predator-prey relationships. Anthropogenic noise has been shown to have a variety of effects on many species, but work investigating the impact on anti-predator behaviour is rare. In this laboratory study, we examined how additional noise (playback of field recordings of a ship passing through a harbour), compared with control conditions (playback of recordings from the same harbours without ship noise), affected responses to a visual predatory stimulus. We compared the anti-predator behaviour of two sympatric fish species, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and the European minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus), which share similar feeding and predator ecologies, but differ in their body armour. Effects of additional-noise playbacks differed between species: sticklebacks responded significantly more quickly to the visual predatory stimulus during additional-noise playbacks than during control conditions, while minnows exhibited no significant change in their response latency. Our results suggest that elevated noise levels have the potential to affect anti-predator behaviour of different species in different ways. Future field-based experiments are needed to confirm whether this effect and the interspecific difference exist in relation to real-world noise sources, and to determine survival and population consequences.
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