Fish chase lasers away from their territories

Fish chase laser
© iStock/ifish

New research led by the University of Plymouth has discovered how wild fish behave spatially when reacting to artificial stimulus, like lasers.

The new study could provide scientists with an innovative way of measuring fish territory sizes and therefore help to sustainably and spatially manage fisheries and associated habitats in the future.

Researchers focused on the wrasse populations of Lyme Bay, England. The study found that certain species of fish would chase the laser, this is believed to be an attempt to chase the laser away in order to protect their territory.

Comparing chase distance between species, scientists discovered that some wrasse would chase the lasers for up to five metres, depending on the size and gender of the fish. By understanding the territory size and home range of marine organisms, researchers can adopt these factors when considering the implementation and management of marine protected areas.

While focusing on the wrasse, a fish commonly used as clearer fish within salmon aquaculture, researchers believe this method has a potential to be developed in order to investigate aspects of territoriality and aggression in other species of wild fish.

Dr Emma Sheehan, Senior Research Fellow and project initiator, said: “We have been entertained by wrasse chasing our flying array video lasers ever since we built the sled in 2008. However it was only in more recent years, since the live wrasse fishery has emerged in the south west, that I had the idea that this laser chasing behaviour could be used to assess territory size and inform future sustainable management of these amazing fishes.”

Pete Davies, who carried out the study and is now working towards a PhD at Bournemouth University, said: “Wrasse are fascinating, abundant and under-appreciated citizens of coastal fish communities around the UK. They also seem to revel in chasing lasers, a bit like some domestic cats. In this study we hoped to shine a spotlight on their complex territorial behaviour and pave the way for more much needed research, at a time when wrasses are increasingly threatened by overfishing.”

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