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Giant clams discriminate threats along a risk gradient and display varying habituation rates to different stimuli

Dehaudt, Bastien, Nguyen, My, Vadlamudi, Arjun, Blumstein, Daniel T.
Ethology 2019 v.125 no.6 pp. 392-398
Tridacna maxima, animal behavior, aquatic invertebrates, clams, energy, fish, habituation, photosynthesis, risk perception, shade, swimming
It is often beneficial for animals to discriminate between different threats and to habituate to repeated exposures of benign stimuli. While much is known about risk perception in vertebrates and some invertebrates, risk perception in marine invertebrates is less extensively studied. One method to study risk perception is to habituate animals to a series of exposures to one stimulus, and then present a novel stimulus to test if it transfers habituation. Transfer of habituation is seen as a continued decrease in response while lack of transfer is seen either by having a similar or greater magnitude response. We asked whether giant clams (Tridacna maxima) discriminate between biologically relevant types of threats along a risk gradient. Giant clams retract their mantle and close their shell upon detecting a threat. While closed, they neither feed nor photosynthesize, and prior work has shown that the cost of being closed increases as the duration of their response increases. We recorded a clam's latency to emerge after simulated threats chosen to represent a risk gradient: exposure to a small shading event, a medium shading event, a large shading event (chosen to simulate fish swimming above them), tapping on their shell and touching their mantle (chosen to simulate different degrees of direct attack). Although these stimuli are initially perceived as threatening, we expected clams to habituate to them because they are ultimately non‐damaging and it would be costly for clams to remain closed for extended periods of time when there is no threat present. Clams had different initial latencies to emerge and different habituation rates to these treatments, and they did not transfer habituation to higher risk stimuli and to some lower risk stimuli. These results suggest that clams discriminated between these stimuli along a risk gradient and the lack of habituation transfer shows that the new stimulus was perceived as a potential threat. This study demonstrates that sessile bivalves can discern between levels of predatory threat. These photosynthetic clams may benefit from being able to categorize predator cues for efficient energy allocation.