Escape performance is fundamental for survival in fish and most other animals. While previous work has shown that both intrinsic (e.g. size, shape) and extrinsic (e.g. temperature, hypoxia) factors can affect escape performance, the possibility that behavioural asymmetry may affect timing and locomotor performance in startled fish is largely unexplored. Numerous studies have found a relationship between brain lateralization and performance in several cognitive tasks. Here, we tested the hypothesis that behavioural lateralization may affect escape performance in a teleost, the shiner perch Cymatogaster aggregata. Escape responses were elicited by mechanical stimulation and recorded using high-speed video (250 Hz). A number of performance variables were analysed, including directionality, escape latency, turning rate and distance travelled within a fixed time. A lateralization index was obtained by testing the turning preference of each subject in a detour test. While lateralization had no effect on escape directionality, strongly lateralized fish showed higher escape reactivity, i.e. shorter latencies, which were associated with higher turning rates and longer distances travelled. Therefore, lateralization is likely to result in superior ability to escape from predator attacks, since previous work has shown that escape timing, turning rate and distance travelled are among the main determinants of escape success.
Keywords: escape response, fish, lateralization, escape performance, locomotion, anti-predator behaviour