Fish avoid visually noisy environments where prey targeting is reduced

Joanna R. Attwell, Christos C. Ioannou, Chris R. Reid, James E. Herbert-Read

Research output: Other contribution


The environment contains different forms of ecological noise that can reduce the ability of animals to detect information. Here we ask whether animals adapt their behaviour to either exploit or avoid areas of their environment with increased dynamic visual noise. Three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) were immersed into environments with a simulated form of naturally occurring visual noise – moving light bands that form on underwater substrates caused by the refraction of light through surface waves. We tested whether this form of visual noise affected fish’s habitat selection, movements, and prey-targeting behaviour. Fish avoided areas of the environment with increased visual noise, and achieved this by increasing their activity as a function of the locally perceived noise level. Fish were less likely to respond to virtual prey in environments with increased visual noise, highlighting a potential impact that visual noise has on their perceptual abilities. Fish did not increase or decrease their refuge use in environments with increased visual noise, providing no evidence that visual noise either increased exploratory, or, risk aversive behaviour. Our results indicate that animals can use simple behavioural strategies to avoid visually noisy environments, thereby mitigating the impacts these environments appear to have on their perceptual abilities.
Original languageEnglish
TypeJournal Article
Media of outputScientific journal
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
Place of PublicationThe American Naturalist
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022


  • Perception
  • Virtual prey
  • Environmental noise
  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • Caustics


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