Friday, 15 September 2017

Social learning in otters

R Soc Open Sci. 2017 Aug 30;4(8):170489. doi: 10.1098/rsos.170489. eCollection 2017 Aug. Ladds Z1, Hoppitt W1,2, Boogert NJ3. Author information 1 Department of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK. 2 School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. 3 Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn, UK. Abstract The use of information provided by others to tackle life's challenges is widespread, but should not be employed indiscriminately if it is to be adaptive. Evidence is accumulating that animals are indeed selective and adopt 'social learning strategies'. However, studies have generally focused on fish, bird and primate species. Here we extend research on social learning strategies to a taxonomic group that has been neglected until now: otters (subfamily Lutrinae). We collected social association data on captive groups of two gregarious species: smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata), known to hunt fish cooperatively in the wild, and Asian short-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus), which feed individually on prey requiring extractive foraging behaviours. We then presented otter groups with a series of novel foraging tasks, and inferred social transmission of task solutions with network-based diffusion analysis. We show that smooth-coated otters can socially learn how to exploit novel food sources and may adopt a 'copy when young' strategy. We found no evidence for social learning in the Asian short-clawed otters. Otters are thus a promising model system for comparative research into social learning strategies, while conservation reintroduction programmes may benefit from facilitating the social transmission of survival skills in these vulnerable species. KEYWORDS: group living; network-based diffusion analysis; otters; problem-solving; social learning; social networks PMID: 28878997 PMCID: PMC5579113 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170489 Free PMC Article