The performance of cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, in a reversal learning task varies across experimental paradigms

Gingins, Simon, Marcadier, Fanny, Wismer, Sharon, Krattinger, Oceane, Quattrini, Fausto, Bshary, Redouan, and Binning, Sandra A. (2018) The performance of cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, in a reversal learning task varies across experimental paradigms. PeerJ, 6. e4745.

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Testing performance in controlled laboratory experiments is a powerful tool for understanding the extent and evolution of cognitive abilities in non-human animals. However, cognitive testing is prone to a number of potential biases, which, if unnoticed or unaccounted for, may affect the conclusions drawn. We examined whether slight modifications to the experimental procedure and apparatus used in a spatial task and reversal learning task affected performance outcomes in the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus (hereafter "cleaners"). Using two-alternative forced-choice tests, fish had to learn to associate a food reward with a side (left or right) in their holding aquarium. Individuals were tested in one of four experimental treatments that differed slightly in procedure and/or physical set-up. Cleaners from all four treatment groups were equally able to solve the initial spatial task. However, groups differed in their ability to solve the reversal learning task: no individuals solved the reversal task when tested in small tanks with a transparent partition separating the two options, whereas over 50% of individuals solved the task when performed in a larger tank, or with an opaque partition. These results clearly show that seemingly insignificant details to the experimental set-up matter when testing performance in a spatial task and might significantly influence the outcome of experiments. These results echo previous calls for researchers to exercise caution when designing methodologies for cognition tasks to avoid misinterpretations.

Item ID: 53785
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2167-8359
Keywords: Coral reef fish, Labroides dimidiatus, Two-alternative forced choice test, Spatial learning, Methodology, Cognition, Cognitive performance, Learning, Experimental design
Funders: Swiss Science Foundation, Fonds de Recherche du Québec, Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation
Date Deposited: 30 May 2018 07:32
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
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