Original Paper

Animal Cognition

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 55-64

First online:

Social learning in juvenile lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris

  • Tristan L. GuttridgeAffiliated withInstitute for Integrative and Comparative Biology, University of LeedsDepartment of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University Email author 
  • , Sander van DijkAffiliated withOcean Ecosystems, University of Groningen
  • , Eize J. StamhuisAffiliated withOcean Ecosystems, University of Groningen
  • , Jens KrauseAffiliated withDepartment of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries
  • , Samuel H. GruberAffiliated withBimini Biological Field StationDivision of Marine Biology and Fisheries, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
  • , Culum BrownAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

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Social learning is taxonomically widespread and can provide distinct behavioural advantages, such as in finding food or avoiding predators more efficiently. Although extensively studied in bony fishes, no such empirical evidence exists for cartilaginous fishes. Our aim in this study was to experimentally investigate the social learning capabilities of juvenile lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris. We designed a novel food task, where sharks were required to enter a start zone and subsequently make physical contact with a target in order to receive a food reward. Naive sharks were then able to interact with and observe (a) pre-trained sharks, that is, ‘demonstrators’, or (b) sharks with no previous experience, that is, ‘sham demonstrators’. On completion, observer sharks were then isolated and tested individually in a similar task. During the exposure phase observers paired with ‘demonstrator’ sharks performed a greater number of task-related behaviours and made significantly more transitions from the start zone to the target, than observers paired with ‘sham demonstrators’. When tested in isolation, observers previously paired with ‘demonstrator’ sharks completed a greater number of trials and made contact with the target significantly more often than observers previously paired with ‘sham demonstrators’. Such experience also tended to result in faster overall task performance. These results indicate that juvenile lemon sharks, like numerous other animals, are capable of using socially derived information to learn about novel features in their environment. The results likely have important implications for behavioural processes, ecotourism and fisheries.


Local and stimulus enhancement Group living Social facilitation Social information use Elasmobranchs