Spatial learning in the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis: preference for vertical over horizontal information [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Gabriella Scata, Christelle Jozet-Alves, Celine Thomasse, Noam Josef, and Nadav Shashar

The world is three-dimensional; hence, even surface-bound animals need to learn vertical spatial information. Separate encoding of vertical and horizontal spatial information seems to be the common strategy regardless of the locomotory style of animals. However, a difference seems to exist in the way freely moving species, such as fish, learn and integrate spatial information as opposed to surface-bound species, which prioritize the horizontal dimension and encode it with a higher resolution. Thus, the locomotory style of an animal may shape how spatial information is learned and prioritized. An alternative hypothesis relates the preference for vertical information to the ability to sense hydrostatic pressure, a prominent cue unique to this dimension. Cuttlefish are mostly benthic animals, but they can move freely in a volume. Therefore, they present an optimal model to examine these hypotheses. We tested whether cuttlefish could separately recall the vertical and horizontal components of a learned two-dimensional target, and whether they have a preference for vertical or horizontal information. Sepia officinalis cuttlefish were trained to select one of two visual cues set along a 45 deg diagonal. The animals were then tested with the two visual cues arranged in a horizontal, vertical or opposite 45 deg configuration. We found that cuttlefish use vertical and horizontal spatial cues separately, and that they prefer vertical information to horizontal information. We propose that, as in fish, the availability of hydrostatic pressure, combined with the ecological value of vertical movements, determines the importance of vertical information.

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Source: Journal of Experimental Biology recent issues
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