, Volume 188, Issue 1, pp 1–10 | Cite as

Mate familiarity and social learning in a monogamous lizard

  • Kirke L. Munch
  • Daniel W. A. Noble
  • Erik Wapstra
  • Geoffrey M. While
Highlighted Student Research


Social learning is thought to be advantageous as it allows an animal to gather information quickly without engaging in costly trial-and-error learning. However, animals should be selective about when and whom they learn from. Familiarity is predicted to positively influence an animal’s reliance on social learning; yet, few studies have empirically tested this theory. We used a lizard (Liopholis whitii) that forms long-term monogamous pair bonds to examine the effects of partner familiarity on social learning in two novel foraging tasks, an association and a reversal task. We allowed female lizards to observe trained conspecifics that were either familiar (social mate) or unfamiliar execute these tasks and compared these two groups with control females that did not receive social information. Lizards preferentially relied on trial-and-error learning in the association task. In the reversal task, lizards that were demonstrated by familiar partners learnt in fewer trials compared to control lizards and made more correct choices. Our results provide some evidence for context-dependent learning with lizards differentiating between when they utilize social learning, and, to a limited degree, whom they learnt from. Understanding the role of the social context in which learning occurs provides important insights into the benefits of social learning and sociality more generally.


Cognition Social learning Familiarity Reptiles Egernia 



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the handling editor for their constructive feedback on previous versions of the manuscript. We are grateful to Giles Barrington for scoring a subset of our video footage, and we would like to thank the numerous members of the Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecology group that assisted us with lizard collection, husbandry and experimental setup.

Author contribution statement

KLM, DWAN, EW and GMW conceived and designed the study. KLM carried out the field and laboratory work. KLM analysed the data with assistance from DWAN and GMW. KLM wrote the paper with assistance from all authors.


This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (DP150102900 to GMW) and a Holsworth Wildlife Endowment Grant (to KLM). KLM was supported by a University of Tasmania PhD scholarship. GMW (DE150100336), EW (FT110100597), and DWAN (DE150101774) were supported by the Australian Research Council.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional and national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All of the work described here was conducted with the approval of the University of Tasmania’s Animal Ethics Committee (A14536).

Supplementary material

442_2018_4153_MOESM1_ESM.docx (77 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 77 kb)
442_2018_4153_MOESM2_ESM.csv (259 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (CSV 259 kb)
442_2018_4153_MOESM3_ESM.csv (374 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (CSV 373 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesKensingtonAustralia

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