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The effect of experience and olfactory cue in an inhibitory control task in guppies, Poecilia reticulata

Santacà, Maria, Busatta, Melania, Savaşçı, Beste Başak, Lucon-Xiccato, Tyrone, Bisazza, Angelo
Animal behaviour 2019 v.151 pp. 1-7
Poecilia reticulata, animal behavior, aquariums, birds, cognition, fish, mammals, odors, vegetation
Behavioural responses to the environment often require the suppression of strong internal predispositions or the overriding of external lures, tasks performed by a cognitive function called inhibitory control. Inhibitory control of nonhuman animals is generally measured with the cylinder task: subjects are presented with food inside a transparent cylinder and must inhibit their tendency to reach the food directly and instead detour round the cylinder to solve the task. However, several studies have raised concerns about the validity of this test to compare different species. Recently, a tiny teleost fish, the guppy, Poecilia reticulata, was tested with the cylinder task and scored higher than many mammals and birds. Before considering that guppies display unpredictably high inhibitory control, it is important to exclude that they were advantaged by some noncognitive factors. In particular, guppies could enjoy three advantages: experience with transparent surfaces (i.e. the walls of maintenance aquaria), experience with detouring round see-through obstacles (vegetation in the maintenance aquaria) and the spread of food odour in the water from the sides of the cylinder. We tested whether these factors affect guppies' performance in the cylinder task by manipulating both their experience with transparent surfaces before the task and the diffusion of food odour cues from the cylinder. Guppies raised in transparent aquaria or with transparent panels placed inside the tank did not show advantages over guppies with no experience with transparent surfaces. Furthermore, the guppies’ performance was not reduced when the cylinder was pierced in the middle, so that both visual and olfactory cues lured them in the same direction. These results seem to exclude methodological explanations for the high inhibitory control score of guppies, and they indicate that even teleost fish can display efficient inhibitory control.