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Vegetated habitats provide numerous benefits to nekton, including structural refuge from predators and food sources. However, the sensory mechanisms by which fishes locate these habitats remain unclear for many species, especially when environmental conditions (such as increased turbidity) are unfavorable for visual identification of habitats. Here, a series of laboratory experiments test whether three species of adult fish (golden topminnow Fundulus chrysotus Günther 1866, sailfin molly Poecilia latipinna Lesueur 1821, and western mosquitofish Gambusia affinis Baird and Girard 1853) use plant chemical cues to orient to one of two habitats (hydrilla Hydrilla verticillata (L.f.) Royle or water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms). First, experiments in aquaria were conducted offering fish a choice of the two habitats to determine preference patterns. Next, a two-channel flume, with each side containing flow originating in one of the two habitats, was used to determine if preferences were still exhibited when fish could only detect habitats through olfactory means. While patterns among the three fish species tested here were variable, results did indicate consistent habitat preferences despite the lack of cues other than olfactory, suggesting that these organisms are capable of discriminating habitats via chemical exudates from plants. As such, olfactory mechanisms likely provide vital information about the surrounding environment and future work should be directed at determining how anthropogenic inputs such as eutrophication and sediment runoff affect the physiology of these sensory capabilities.
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Raw data for Experiment 1 and 2
Data are presented for each fish species for both experiments conducted.