Learning rate and temperament in a high predation risk environment

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Living in challenging environments can influence the behavior of animals in a number of ways. For instance, populations of prey fish that experience frequent, nonlethal interactions with predators have a high proportion of individuals that express greater reaction to risk and increased activity and exploration—collectively known as temperament traits. Temperament traits are often correlated, such that individuals that are risk-prone also tend to be active and explore more. Spatial learning, which requires the integration of many sensory cues, has also been shown to vary in fish exposed to different levels of predation threat. Fish from areas of low predation risk learn to solve spatial tasks faster than fish from high predation areas. However, it is not yet known whether simpler forms of learning, such as learning associations between two events, are similarly influenced. Simple forms of associative learning are likely to be affected by temperament because a willingness to approach and explore novel situations could provide animals with a learning advantage. However, it is possible that routine-forming and inflexible traits associated with risk-prone and increased exploratory behavior may act in the opposite way and make risk-prone individuals poorer at learning associations. To investigate this, we measured temperament in Panamanian bishop fish (Brachyrhaphis episcopi) sampled from a site known to contain many predators. The B. episcopi were then tested with an associative learning task. Within this population, fish that explored more were faster at learning a cue that predicted access to food, indicating a link between temperament and basic learning abilities.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Learning rate and temperament in a high predation risk environment
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-014-3099-z
Volume 176
Issue 3
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Springer-Verlag
Publisher location Berlin
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description 7 p.
First page 661
Last page 667
Country Costa Rica
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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