Friday, August 29, 2008

Minnows and Social Learning

Here is a report on a neat new study from the UK showing that minnows are capable of shared social learning to avoid predators. Here are some details from the study, and observations from the study's author, Dr. Mike Webster from St. Andrews University:

Dr Webster carried out a series of experiments to show how minnows escape being eaten by predators by using techniques of shared learning.

He discovered that a solitary fish separated from the shoal by a clear plastic divider, will make its own decisions when there is no threat.

But when a predator was placed in the shared pool, the single fish took its cue on how to act by watching the other fish.

The biologist said: "These experiments provide clear evidence that minnows increasingly rely on social learning as the basis for their foraging decisions as the perceived threat of a predator increases."

Dr Webster said sharing learning was a human trait.

He added: 'Traditionally fishes have been looked upon as simple or intellectually inferior animals that are incapable of learning, with notoriously poor memories.

"Although fishes are the oldest group this does not mean that they ceased evolving."

Pretty cool stuff, showing fish are just naturally smarter than people give them credit for! --Dean

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