Social learning in juvenile lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris


Social learning is taxonomically widespread and can provide distinct behavioural advantages, such as in finding food or avoiding predators more efficiently. Although extensively studied in bony fishes, no such empirical evidence exists for cartilaginous fishes. Our aim in this study was to experimentally investigate the social learning capabilities of juvenile lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris. We designed a novel food task, where sharks were required to enter a start zone and subsequently make physical contact with a target in order to receive a food reward. Naive sharks were then able to interact with and observe (a) pre-trained sharks, that is, ‘demonstrators’, or (b) sharks with no previous experience, that is, ‘sham demonstrators’. On completion, observer sharks were then isolated and tested individually in a similar task. During the exposure phase observers paired with ‘demonstrator’ sharks performed a greater number of task-related behaviours and made significantly more transitions from the start zone to the target, than observers paired with ‘sham demonstrators’. When tested in isolation, observers previously paired with ‘demonstrator’ sharks completed a greater number of trials and made contact with the target significantly more often than observers previously paired with ‘sham demonstrators’. Such experience also tended to result in faster overall task performance. These results indicate that juvenile lemon sharks, like numerous other animals, are capable of using socially derived information to learn about novel features in their environment. The results likely have important implications for behavioural processes, ecotourism and fisheries.

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T.L.G. was supported by a Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship. S.VD was supported by grants from the Marco Polo Fund and the Groningen University Fund. We thank the volunteers and staff at the Bimini Biological Field Station for their contribution. We also thank the Department of Animal Behaviour of the University of Groningen for use of their ‘Observer XT’ behavioural analysis software. The study was financially supported by the Bimini Biological Field Station, Lacy Hoover, Earthwatch Institute, National Science Foundation (NSF-OCE 97-12793), NERC (NE/D011035/1) and Department of Education, State of Florida (FLORIDA 8749703000001). This research was carried out under a permit from Michael Braynen, Department of Fisheries of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. We also thank anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that improved our MS.

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Correspondence to Tristan L. Guttridge.

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Guttridge, T.L., van Dijk, S., Stamhuis, E.J. et al. Social learning in juvenile lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris . Anim Cogn 16, 55–64 (2013) doi:10.1007/s10071-012-0550-6

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  • Local and stimulus enhancement
  • Group living
  • Social facilitation
  • Social information use
  • Elasmobranchs