Modelling how cleaner fish approach an ephemeral reward task demonstrates a role for ecologically tuned chunking in the evolution of advanced cognition

Yosef Prat*, Redouan Bshary, Arnon Lotem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

AU What: Pleaseconfirmthatallheadinglevelsarerepresentedcorrectly makes cognition “advanced” is an open and not precisely : defined question. One perspective involves increasing the complexity of associative learning, from conditioning to learning sequences of events (“chaining”) to representing various cue combinations as “chunks.” Here we develop a weighted graph model to study the mechanism enabling chunking ability and the conditions for its evolution and success, based on the ecology of the cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus. In some environments, cleaners must learn to serve visitor clients before resident clients, because a visitor leaves if not attended while a resident waits for service. This challenge has been captured in various versions of the ephemeral reward task, which has been proven difficult for a range of cognitively capable species. We show that chaining is the minimal requirement for solving this task in its common simplified laboratory format that involves repeated simultaneous exposure to an ephemeral and permanent food source. Adding ephemeral–ephemeral and permanent–permanent combinations, as cleaners face in the wild, requires individuals to have chunking abilities to solve the task. Importantly, chunking parameters need to be calibrated to ecological conditions in order to produce adaptive decisions. Thus, it is the fine-tuning of this ability, which may be the major target of selection during the evolution of advanced associative learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3001519
JournalPLoS Biology
Volume20
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2022

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