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Impact of social rearing-environment on performance in a complex maze in females of a cichlid fish

Hesse, Saskia, Sandmann, Sarah, Bakker, Theo C.M., Thünken, Timo
Behavioural processes 2019 pp. 103915
Pelvicachromis, adults, cognition, females, fish, foraging, habitats, learning, predator avoidance, rearing, social environment
Spatial orientation is an important skill as it improves, for example, foraging, localisation of recourses, predator avoidance or navigation. Habitat complexity positively affects spatial abilities in various fish species with a more complex environment promoting learning ability. However, to what extent a complex social environment affects cognitive abilities in fishes has received less attention. Here, we investigated differences in maze performance of adult females of the West African cichlid fish Pelvicachromis taeniatus, which had been reared and maintained either in a group or in isolation from an early age on. Fish had to master the route through a maze in order to gain a food reward. Our results indicate marked differences in performance contingent upon social rearing-environment: isolation fish ran successful trials (i.e. locating the food reward) significantly more often than group fish and were faster during trials, also in a reversed maze. However, the number of mistakes did not differ between isolation and group fish and the time needed to relocate the food reward did not diminish with elapsed training days. In a second experiment, the activity of group and isolation fish was analysed in an open field test. Here, isolation fish were less active than group fish. We discuss different possibilities for performance differences of group and isolation fish including enhanced cognitive abilities of isolation fish, motivational/emotional differences and hyperactivity.