Familiarity with the test environment improves escape responses in the crimson spotted rainbowfish, Melanotaenia duboulayi
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Animals that are familiar with their environment have been reported to have greater survivorship for a number of reasons related to their knowledge of the terrain, which they recall from memory. In an initial experiment rainbowfish significantly improved their escape response towards a novel trawl apparatus over a sequence of five runs. Escape latencies were still low during a subsequent exposure 11 months after the initial exposure. While part of the improvement in escape success was certainly due to learning associated with the location of the escape route, it is likely that this was aided by habituation to the tank environment and the experimental protocol. In a follow-up experiment, fish that had been kept in the experimental tank for 3 weeks prior to testing, and had become familiar with the test tank, showed significantly lower escape latencies and escaped more often than fish that were not familiar with the test environment. It is suspected that familiarity with the testing arena decreased stress and enabled individuals to detect novel stimuli and devote more attention to them. These findings have significant implications for experimenters studying aspects of animal cognition, such as learning and memory, in laboratory situations.
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