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We subjected fish from regions of high and low levels of predation pressure in four independent streams to a mild stressor and recorded their opercular beat rates. Fish from low-predation areas showed higher maximum, minimum and mean opercular beat frequencies than fish from high-predation regions. The change in opercular beat frequency (scope) was also significantly greater in fish from low- than in fish from high-predation regions. Under normal activity levels, however, low predation fish showed a reduced opercular beat frequency, which may be indicative of reduced activity levels or metabolic rate. Opercular beat frequency was negatively correlated with standard length as one would expect based on higher metabolic rates in smaller fish. We suggest that these contrasting stress responses are most likely the result of differential exposure to predators in fish from high- and low-predation areas. We argue that reduced stress responses in high-predation areas evolved to prevent excessive energy expenditure by modulating the fright response.


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