Familiarity facilitates social learning of foraging behaviour in the guppy

Will Swaney, Jeremy Kendal*, Hannah Capon, Culum Brown, Kevin N. Laland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies have shown that guppies, Poecilia reticulata, can learn the route to a food source by shoaling with knowledgeable conspecifics, and prefer to shoal with experienced foragers and familiar fish. We tested the hypothesis that guppies would learn more effectively from (1) familiar than unfamiliar demonstrators and (2) well-trained than poorly trained demonstrators. Demonstrator fish were given experience in swimming a route to a food source and then introduced into shoals of untrained observer guppies; the spread of this foraging skill was recorded over 15 trials. The demonstrators were either familiar or unfamiliar to the observers and either well trained or poorly trained. Observers performed significantly better when the demonstrators were familiar. The training of the demonstrators made no overall difference to the performance of naïve observers. However, whilst observers in shoals exposed to well-trained demonstrators did better initially than those with poorly trained ones, the latter learned the route to the feeder faster. Our results suggest that familiarity may generate a form of directed social learning in guppy shoals, in which fish learn more effectively from familiar conspecifics. An analysis of who follows whom suggests that well-trained demonstrators can provide a 'tip-off' as to the location of the hole but poorly trained demonstrators were more likely to be followed. The results suggest that while observers are able to shoal with poorly trained demonstrators, well-trained demonstrators swim the maze route too quickly to be followed, but may attract attention to the maze route.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-598
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


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