Social learning of antipredator behaviour in a marsupial

Andrea S. Griffin*, Christopher S. Evans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

52 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Socially acquired predator recognition has been demonstrated in a range of taxa, but there is no experimental evidence for this phenomenon in marsupials. We have previously shown that tammar wallabies, Macropus eugenii, can be individually trained to avoid a model fox, Vulpes vulpes. Here, we examined whether such acquired responses can be socially transmitted to predator-naïve companions. Tammars were given training trials in which they observed the response of a demonstrator wallaby that was either fearful of the fox (experimental group), or indifferent to it (control group). Tammars in the experimental group subsequently responded to the fox model with significantly higher vigilance levels than controls. To examine the specificity of this acquired antipredator behaviour, we measured responses to an array of other visual stimuli after training and compared these with the results of identical pretraining tests. There was a small difference between the two groups in responses to a model cat, Felis catus, but not to a model nonpredator (goat, Capra hircus). There were also no differences between experimental and control groups during blank trials, in which no stimulus was presented, showing that the elevated vigilance response to the fox did not simply reflect a general increase in arousal. The effect of training was hence to inculcate a relatively specific response to the fox, with only limited generalization to another predator stimulus. These findings provide the first evidence for social learning in a marsupial and suggest that this group has cognitive characteristics convergent with those of eutherian mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-492
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume66
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2003

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