Effects of predator species, composition and light environment on prey escape behaviours of invasive and native benthic fishes

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The behaviour of two benthic species, round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) and mottled sculpin (Cottus bairdii), were examined under natural relevant downwelling light during predatory attacks by Burbot (Lota lota) and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu). Population declines have been observed for mottled sculpin after round goby invaded the Laurentian Great Lakes, but no data exist on prey avoidance behaviours and success for either species. The activity levels of the prey species were measured in the presence and absence of predators. Predator–prey interactions were quantified for reaction, attack, capture and retention probabilities. In addition, flight initiation distance, turns per flee and a comparison between observed and optimal escape angles were used as escape metrics to examine differences in prey survival. Trials were run under downwelling irradiances calculated for Lake Superior that correlated with dark, civil twilight, and sunrise. The number of round goby movements decreased by 74% in the presence of predators while mottled sculpin movement declined by 95% compared to baselines established without predators. Round gobies were more successful at evading predation with 18.3% of mottled sculpins consumed compared to 8.5% of round gobies during a comparable number (n = 27) trials. Round gobies also fled closer to their theoretically calculated optimal angles than mottled sculpin. Greater variation in flight initiation distances at different light intensities, fleeing at optimum angles that avoid predation and a more erratic escape path led to increased escape success for round gobies. Greater success avoiding predators may be another compounding factor, combined with round goby aggression and competition, that has contributed to the success of the round goby invasion in the Laurentian Great Lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcology of Freshwater Fish
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Ecology of Freshwater Fish published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • flee
  • mottled sculpin
  • reaction distance
  • round goby


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