Brain development and predation: Plastic responses depend on evolutionary history

Abigél Gonda, Kaisa Välimäki, Gábor Herczeg, Juha Merila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

42 Citations (Scopus)


Although the brain is known to be a very plastic organ, the effects of common ecological interactions like predation or competition on brain development have remained largely unexplored. We reared nine-spined sticklebacks (Pungitius pungitius) from two coastal marine (predation-adapted) and two isolated pond (competition-adapted) populations in a factorial experiment, manipulating perceived predatory risk and food supply to see (i) if the treatments affected brain development and (ii) if there was population differentiation in the response to treatments. We detected differences in plasticity of the bulbus olfactorius (chemosensory centre) between habitats: marine fish were not plastic, whereas pond fish had larger bulbi olfactorii in the presence of perceived predation. Marine fish had larger bulbus olfactorius overall. Irrespective of population origin, the hypothalamus was smaller in the presence of perceived predatory risk. Our results demonstrate that perceived predation risk can influence brain development, and that the effect of an environmental factor on brain development may depend on the evolutionary history of a given population in respect to this environmental factor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-252
Number of pages4
JournalBiology letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 23 2012


  • Brain plasticity
  • Brain size
  • Competition
  • Predation
  • Pungitius
  • Stickleback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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