Evol Ecol Res 19: 591-617 (2018)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

How to get out of a maze?
Stingrays (Potamotrygon motoro)
use directional over landmark information
when provided with both in a spatial task

Vera Schluessel and Christian Ober*

Institute of Zoology, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany

Correspondence: V. Schluessel, Institute of Zoology, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, Poppelsdorfer Schloss, Meckenheimer Allee 169, 53115 Bonn, Germany. email: v.schluessel@uni-bonn.de


Background: Previous studies have shown that stingrays can exploit a variety of spatial learning strategies, including directional, landmark, and place learning. In these studies, allocentric and global strategies were preferred over egocentric information and local strategies. Elasmobranchs represent the oldest extant vertebrate group. Considering their key phylogenetic position, we wished to address the evolution of spatial strategies as well as the significance of specific strategies over others.

Aim: Investigate cue preferences in two types of maze experiments by assessing the significance of single landmarks and directional cues (both egocentric strategies) for orientation.

Organism: Freshwater stingrays (Potamotrygon motoro).

Methods: In two independent experiments, five juvenile stingrays were trained to find their way through a maze while being given both landmark and directional information. Transfer tests (in which conflicts between both kinds of information were created) showed which cues the rays used preferentially to reach their goal.

Results: All rays successfully learned to master the mazes in both experiments, so all were capable of learning and the application of spatial memory. Rays placed more importance on directional information than on landmark cues. This applied to abstract cues (provided in the form of cards featuring symbols) as well as ‘natural’ landmark cues (in the form of plants). Once rays were trained to use directional information, it was not possible to reverse their preference and get them to use landmark information instead.

Conclusion: Freshwater stingrays learn quickly and prefer directional information to single landmark cues.

Keywords: behaviour, cognition, egocentric, elasmobranchs, spatial orientation, stingrays.

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