Refuge use in a killifish: Influence of body size and nutritional state
Refuge use by animals provides greater safety from predation. A refuging animal continuously must decide whether to stay in the refuge or to emerge into open habitat. This decision may depend on its energetic state and vulnerability to predation, both of which can vary with individual body size. We experimentally tested the concurrent effects of body size and nutritional (hunger) state on refuge use in the banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus). Individual killifish were "attacked" in an open laboratory habitat (containing food) by either a trout predator model or a control model that did not resemble a trout. Frightened fish typically fled into a foodless refuge nearby. The amount of time that killifish spent in the refuge before emerging increased significantly with body length, but was not affected by their current nutritional state or the threatening stimulus (type of model). Smaller killifish were thus more risk-prone than larger conspecifics irrespective of their current nutritional state. Such size-mediated risk-taking behaviour has important consequences for individual fitness and implications for population and community composition and dynamics in nature.