Jessica F Stephenson and Michael Reynolds (2016) Imprinting can cause a maladaptive preference for infectious conspecifics. Biology Letters. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/4/20160020
Many animals remember chemical cues they encounter as juveniles, for example, the smell of nearby individuals. These memorised smells can subsequently help identify important individuals, such as members of the same species or family, and are key in appropriate social decisions. However this process, ‘imprinting’, could lead to maladaptive decisions, for example, in the presence of infectious diseases. A new study published by Jess Stephenson and Mike Reynolds highlights how juvenile fish imprinted on the smell of disease subsequently have an associative preference for the smell of infected individuals during adulthood, over the smell of healthy conspecifics. This potentially maladaptive preference thereby increased their risk of contracting an infection. This behaviour is likely to have implications for disease spread through natural populations. Access the paper here.