Social interaction with non-averse group-mates modifies a learned food aversion in single- and mixed-species groups of tamarins (Saguinus fuscicollis and S. labiatus)

Authors

  • M.J. Prescott,

    Corresponding author
    1. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), London, United Kingdom
    2. Scottish Primate Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom
    • National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), 20 Park Crescent, London, W1B 1AL, UK
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  • H.M. Buchanan-Smith,

    1. Scottish Primate Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom
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  • A.C. Smith

    1. Scottish Primate Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of Stirling, Stirling, United Kingdom
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Abstract

For social species, being a member of a cohesive group and performing activities as a coordinated unit appear to provide a mechanism for the efficient transmission of information about food. Social learning about food palatability was investigated in two captive primates, Saguinus fuscicollis and S. labiatus, which form stable and cohesive mixed-species groups in the wild. We explored whether an induced food aversion toward a preferred food is modified during and after social interaction with non-averse conspecifics or congeners. Sets of intra- and interspecific pairs were presented with two foods, one of which was considered distasteful by one of the pairs (the other was palatable), and their behavior was compared pre-interaction, during interaction, and post-interaction. For the aversely-conditioned individuals of both species, the change in social context corresponded to a change in their preference for the food that they considered unpalatable, regardless of whether they had interacted with a conspecific or congeneric pair, and the change in food preference was maintained post-interaction. In a control condition, in which averse individuals did not have the opportunity to interact with non-averse animals, S. fuscicollis sampled the preferred food, but not as quickly as when given the opportunity to interact. We conclude that the social learning demonstrated here may allow individual tamarins to track environmental change, such as fruit ripening, more efficiently than asocial learning alone, because social learners can more quickly and safely focus on appropriate behavior by sharing up-to-date foraging information. Furthermore, since the behavior of congeners, as well as conspecifics, acts to influence food choice in a more adaptive direction, social learning about food palatability may be an advantage of mixed-species group formation to tamarins of both species. Am. J. Primatol. 65:313–326, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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