Seasonal variation of sexually dimorphic spatial learning implicates mating system in the intertidal Cocos Frillgoby (Bathygobius cocosensis)

Abstract

Spatial learning is an important cognitive function found across a multitude of species. Natural selection can enhance specific cognitive abilities depending on species ecology but, under certain conditions, spatial learning is also known to vary between sexes according to reproductive status. Despite abundant studies on spatial learning across animal taxa, those focusing on sexually dimorphic spatial learning have been largely limited to rodents. Here, we found that spatial cognition varies between the sexes in an intertidal goby, and this difference fluctuates across seasons. Males and females demonstrated similar cognitive abilities when solving a simple maze during all seasons except spring, when males were significantly less successful than females. Spring marks the beginning of the breeding season for this species, when females move between nests to choose a suitable mate, while males guard their nest and forego foraging excursions. We suggest that the reduction in male cognitive ability reduces metabolic costs at a time of reduced need. This study presents the first evidence for sexually dimorphic spatial learning in fish driven by differences in reproductive behaviour as dictated by the mating system.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, and P. Carbia as supported by an MQ10 PhD Scholarship. The authors wish to 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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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). All individuals were kept in the Sea Water Facility of Macquarie University for the full duration of the experiment to prevent re-capture of individuals. Upon conclusion of research, all gobies were released at the site of capture.

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Carbia, P.S., Brown, C. Seasonal variation of sexually dimorphic spatial learning implicates mating system in the intertidal Cocos Frillgoby (Bathygobius cocosensis). Anim Cogn 23, 621–628 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01366-3

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Keywords

  • Cognition
  • Spatial learning
  • Goby
  • Seasonal
  • Sexually dimorphic
  • Reproduction