Neurally underdeveloped cuttlefish newborns exhibit social learning

Presenting Author: Eduardo Sampaio

Authors: Eduardo Sampaio [1,2,3], Catarina S. Ramos [1], Bruna L.M. Bernardino [1], Maela Bleunven [1], Marta L. Augustin [1], Érica Moura [1], Vanessa M. Lopes [1], Rui Rosa [1]

1. MARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Laboratório Marítimo da Guia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa. Portugal.
2. Department of Collective Behaviour, Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior, University of Konstanz, Germany.
3. Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, University of Konstanz, Germany.

Learning can occur through self-experience with the environment, or through the observation of others. The latter allows for adaptive behaviour without trial-and-error, thus maximizing individual fitness. Perhaps given their mostly solitary lifestyle, cuttlefish have seldomly been tested under observational learning scenarios. Here we used a multi-treatment design to disentangle if and how neurally – immature cuttlefish Sepia officinalis hatchlings (up to 5 days) incorporate social information into their decision – making, when performing a task where inhibition of predatory behaviour is learned. In the classical social learning treatment using pre-trained demonstrators, observers did not register any predatory behaviour. In the inhibition by social learning treatment, using naïve (or sham) demonstrators, more observers than demonstrators learned the task, while also reaching learning criterion in fewer trials, and performing less number of attacks per trial. Moreover, the performance of demonstrator-observer pairs was highly correlated, indicating that the mere presence of conspecifics did not explain our results by itself. Additionally, observers always reported higher latency time to attack during trials, a trend that was reversed in the positive controls. Lastly, pre-exposure to the stimulus did not improve learning rates. Our findings reveal the vicarious capacity of these invertebrate newborns to learn modulation (inhibition) of predatory behaviour, potentially through emulation (i.e. affordance learning). Despite ongoing changes on neural organization during early ontogeny, cognitively – demanding forms of learning are already present in cuttlefish newborns, facilitating behavioural adaptation at a critical life stage, and potentially improving individual fitness in the environment.

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