Environmental enrichment influences spatial learning ability in captive-reared intertidal gobies (Bathygobius cocosensis)

Abstract

Behavioural plasticity is an advantageous trait for animals living in dynamic environments, and can be induced through learning. While some behavioural traits are innate, others are framed by experience and learning during an individual’s lifetime. Many studies have investigated cognitive abilities in fish species from contrasting environments, but the relative contribution of natural selection versus behavioural plasticity in cognitive variability remains equivocal. Furthermore, rearing conditions in laboratories are often mundane, failing to encourage natural behaviour in the species used in these studies. Here, we captured juvenile gobies (Bathygobius cocosensis) from intertidal rockpools, and raised them in captivity under varied environmental enrichment treatments that mimic variation observed in coastal habitats. When tested in a simple spatial learning task, individuals from complex rearing treatments (rock or oyster substrate) reached learning criteria faster than those reared in less complex (seagrass) and homogenous environments (sand substrate). Interestingly, gobies reared in complex environments demonstrated longer latencies to start the task than gobies in homogeneous treatments. Our results indicate that cognitive ability is strongly shaped by individual experience during ontogeny, and exposure to reduced environmental complexity in early life leads to reduced cognitive abilities in intertidal gobies.

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Acknowledgements

This research was carried out at, and funded by, the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. Additional funding was provided by an MQ10 (Ph.D.) Scholarship. We thank the SWF technician of Macquarie University, Josh Aldridge, for assistance in animal husbandry.

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Correspondence to Penelope S. Carbia.

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Ethical note

Gobies were caught in compliance with NSW Fisheries (permit no. P08/0010-3.0). Husbandry and experimental conditions were approved by the Macquarie University Ethics Committee (ARA 2014/003). Following experimental trials, all gobies were released at the site of capture.

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Carbia, P.S., Brown, C. Environmental enrichment influences spatial learning ability in captive-reared intertidal gobies (Bathygobius cocosensis). Anim Cogn 22, 89–98 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-018-1225-8

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Keywords

  • Behaviour
  • Plasticity
  • Environment
  • Cognition
  • Goby
  • Structural complexity