Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 1039–1050 | Cite as

Ecological differences in the facultative Caribbean cleaning goby Elacatinus prochilos do not predict learning performance in discriminatory two-choice tasks

  • Renata MazzeiEmail author
  • Michelle Lampe
  • Alica Ohnesorge
  • Aude Pajot
  • Marta C. Soares
  • Redouan Bshary
Original Paper


The ecological approach to comparative cognition emphasizes that the ecological and social environment are important predictors of cognitive performance. We used this approach to test whether differences in habitat use and social behavior in the facultative Caribbean cleaning goby Elacatinus prochilos predict differences in learning performance in two discriminatory two-choice tasks. This species has two behavioral ecotypes: one that frequently engages in cleaning interactions and inhabits corals in male–female pairs (cleaning gobies) and another that rarely engages in cleaning interactions and inhabits barrel sponges in large groups (sponge-dwellers). We predicted that cleaning gobies would outperform sponge-dwellers in a pattern-cued task, which consisted of identifying the pattern on a plate that consistently provided food, while sponge-dwellers would outperform cleaning gobies in a spatial task, which consisted of identifying the location of the plate. Contrary to our predictions, there was no difference in performance between the two ecotypes. Most of the gobies performed poorly in the pattern-cued task and well in the spatial task. A possible explanation for these results is that the association of a pattern with positive and negative reinforcement may not be a pre-requisite for engaging in cleaning interactions, while spatial skills might be equally required in both ecotypes. Alternatively, the two ecotypes can flexibly adjust to new feeding conditions, which would explain their similar performance in the spatial task. Further research should investigate which aspects of E. prochilos’ social and ecological environment might impose challenges that require spatial cognition and whether individuals can flexibly adjust to new habitats and feeding conditions.


Cleaning gobies Cognition Elacatinus prochilos Social behavior Cue use Spatial task 



We would like to thank Yasmin Emery, Kristie Alleyne, Jeniece Germain, and Shawn Simpson for the assistance in the field, the staff of the Bellairs Research Institute and Henri Vallès for the logistical support and Radu Slobodeanu for statistical advice. RM is supported by a scholarship from the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico do Brazil (CNPQ/201522/2014-4). ML received a travel subsidy from the University Fund Nijmegen (SNUF). AO was supported by a “PROMOS” grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). M.C.S. is currently supported by National Funds through FCT1 Foundation for Science and Technology. Funding for the project was provided by the CNPQ (grant to Renata Mazzei) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant to Redouan Bshary).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of the Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) in Barbados. The protocol was approved by the Minister of Environment on behalf of the CZUM (permit reference number: CZ01/9/9).

Supplementary material

10071_2019_1295_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (550 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 550 kb)
10071_2019_1295_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (36 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 35 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Eco-Ethologie, Institut de Biologie, Université de NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Animal Ecology and PhysiologyRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.GEOMAR, Helmholtz Centre for Ocean ResearchKielGermany
  4. 4.Christian-Albrechts Universität KielKielGermany
  5. 5.CIBIO/InBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos da Universidade do PortoVairãoPortugal

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