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A comparison of spatial learning and memory capabilities in intertidal gobies

Abstract

For the majority of animals, the ability to orient in familiar locations is a fundamental part of life, and spatial memory allows individuals to remember key locations such as food patches, shelter, mating sites or areas regularly occupied by predators. This study determined if gobies collected from rocky platforms and sandy beaches differ in their ability to learn and memorise the locations of tide pools in a simulated rocky intertidal zone. Intertidal rock pool gobies show acute homing abilities and, therefore, should be expected to display superior learning and memory capabilities. In contrast, it is unlikely that natural selection would favour similar learning skills in sandy shore fishes because they simply shift back and forth with the tides. The learning abilities of gobies were tested using small replica rock platforms, containing four tide pools that retained varying depths of water at simulated low tide. Gobies were categorised as having learnt the task if they were able to consistently locate the tide pool that retained the most water at simulated low tide as the pool with the most favourable conditions. Rock pool species were able to locate the deepest pool to wait out low tide for ~95 % of the trials, while species from sandy shores were found in the deepest pool ~10 % of trials. Despite repeated stranding, sandy shore fish continued to follow the tide out. We propose that rock pool species memorised the location of rock pools during simulated high tide enabling them to relocate the best refuge for low tide.

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Acknowledgments

Many thanks are due to Penelope Carbia for assistance with experimental testing, anonymous reviewers for comments on manuscript and Macquarie University for providing the funds necessary to perform this study. We would also like to thank Macquarie Engineering and Technical Services (METS; http://mets.mq.edu.au/) for constructing the spatial learning test tanks and tide regulator and Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) for the use of their seawater research facilities to house the fish.

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Correspondence to Culum Brown.

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Communicated by J. Frommen

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Supplementary Fig 1
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Photograph of test tank apparatus at artificial low tide with rock landmarks in position for learning trials (JPEG 44 kb)

ESM 1
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High resolution image (TIFF 1267 kb)

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White, G.E., Brown, C. A comparison of spatial learning and memory capabilities in intertidal gobies. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 1393–1401 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1747-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1747-2

Keywords

  • Gobies
  • Habitat complexity
  • Homing
  • Spatial learning and memory