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Published May 21, 2024 | Version v1
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Finotypic plasticity: Predator-induced plasticity in fin size, darkness, and display behaviour in a teleost fish


Fish fins are remarkable devices of propulsion. Fin morphology is intimately linked to locomotor performance, and hence to behaviours that influence fitness, such as foraging and predator avoidance. This foreshadows a connection between fin morphology and variation in predation risk. Yet, whether prey can adjust fin morphology according to changes in perceived risk within their lifetime (a.k.a. predator-induced plasticity) remains elusive. 

Here, we quantify the structural size of five focal fins in crucian carp (Carassius carassius) following controlled manipulations to perceived predation risk (presence/absence of pike Esox lucius). We also assess if crucian carp respond to increased predation risk by shifts in dorsal fin colouration, and test for differences in how fish actively use their dorsal fins by quantifying the area of the fin displayed in behavioural trials. 

We find that crucian carp show phenotypic plasticity with regard to fin size as predator-exposed fish consistently have larger fins. Individuals exposed to perceived predation risk also increased dorsal fin darkness and actively displayed a larger area of the fin to potential predators. 

Our result thus provides compelling evidence for predator-induced fin enlargement, which should result in enhanced escape swimming performance. Moreover, fin-size plasticity may evolve synergistically with fin colouration and display behaviour, and we suggest that the adaptive value of this synergy is to enhance the silhouette of deep-bodied and hard-to-capture prey to deter gape-limited predators prior to an attack. Together, our results provide new perspectives on the role of predation risk for the development and evolution of fins. 


Funding provided by: Swedish Research Council
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Funding provided by: Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse
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Funding provided by: Royal Physiographic Society of Lund
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Data of fin size, fin display and fin colouration extracted from digital photographs of crucian carps reared in the presence or absence of a natural predator. 


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