Interference in early dual-task learning by predatory mites

Inga C. Christiansen, Peter Schausberger

Animals are commonly exposed to multiple environmental stimuli, but whether, and under which circumstances, they can attend to multiple stimuli in multitask learning challenges is elusive. Here, we assessed whether simultaneously occurring chemosensory stimuli interfere with each other in a dual-task learning challenge. We exposed predatory mites Neoseiulus californicus early in life to either only conspecifics (kin) or simultaneously conspecifics (kin) and food (thrips or pollen), to determine whether presence of food interferes with social familiarization and, vice versa, whether presence of conspecifics interferes with learning the cues of thrips. We found that N. californicus can become familiar with kin early in life and use kin recognition later in life to avoid kin cannibalism. However, when the juvenile predators were challenged by multiple stimuli associated with two different learning tasks, that is, when they grew up with conspecifics in the presence of food, they were no longer capable of social familiarization. In contrast, the presence of conspecifics did not compromise the predators’ ability to learn the cues of thrips. Memory of experience with thrips allowed shorter attack latencies on thrips and increased oviposition by adult N. californicus. Proximately, the stimuli for learning the features of thrips were apparently more salient than those for learning to recognize kin. We argue that, ultimately, learning the cues of thrips at the expense of impeded social familiarization pays off because of negligible cannibalism risk in the presence of abundant food. Our study suggests that stimulus-driven prioritization of learning tasks is in line with the predictions of selective and limited attention theories, and provides a key example of interference in dual-task learning by an arthropod.

External organisation(s)
Universität für Bodenkultur Wien
Animal Behaviour
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106051 Behavioural biology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics, Animal Science and Zoology
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