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Ashlee Crabtree

Biology 1615
Judy Bunkall
Environmental Change Enhances Cognitive Abilities in Fish
Charles Darwin stated It is not the strongest of the species that
survives, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change. Scientists
designed an experiment that proved Darwins Theory of Natural
Selection. (Natural Selection: organisms that are better adapted to
their environment tend to survive longer and transmit more of their
genetic characteristics to succeeding generations than do those that
are less well adapted.) Environmental fluctuations early in life are
know to enhance the behavioral flexibility of animals with regard to
predator avoidance strategies, feeding performance, and social
behavior (Kotrschal & Taborsky, 2010.) It is better for animals to
experience diverse environments earlier in life so they can be better
equipped for environmental trials in adulthood. Having a better
understanding of natural selection can teach the world how animals
adapt to the environment so that they can live longer lives and
produce offspring. The researchers hypothesis was: If increased
cognitive performance confers a fitness advantage when shifting
habitats, we should expect that the improved cognitive abilities can be
triggered in [Simochromis] pleurospilus by experimentally varying their
juvenile environmental quality (Kotrschal & Taborsky, 2010.)
Materials and Methods:

Ashlee Crabtree
Biology 1615
Judy Bunkall
Simochromis pleurospilus is a cichlid in
East Africa. It is a fresh water fish that is
native to the Congo and Zambia. It is
threatened by agricultural development,
which leads to increased siltation, turbidity, and pollution
(Bigirimana, 2006.) It feeds on epilithic turf algae along the shallow
shores of the lake. Researchers nurtured 130 fishes in separate
Plexiglas tanks. The fish were exposed to different feeding situations in
their early and late adolescent stages. Fish either received 1. a high
food ration both in early and late life; 2. a low food ration both in early
and late life; 3. a high food ration in early life, switched [at day 77] to a
low food ration in late life; or 4. a low food ration in early life, switched
to a high food ration in late life (Kotrschal & Taborsky, 2010.) The
researchers taught the fish to connect a visual signal with food and
recorded how frequently the fish chose the positive stimulus, which
tested their cognitive ability. They completed this test at the end of
their juvenile period and one year later once the fish had reached
The results showed that neither the amount of food received before
the switch [from juvenile to adult] nor after the switch influenced the
number of correct choices [(choosing the positive stimulant vs. the
negative one)] significantly. However, demonstrating that fish that had

Ashlee Crabtree
Biology 1615
Judy Bunkall
experienced a switch in feeding regimen outperformed those fed
constant rations (Kotrschal & Taborsky, 2010.) The fish that had a food
shortage were more motivated to approach the test apparatus than the
fish that had received a consistent diet.
Each S. pleurospilus that had a change in food ration early in life
outdid the fish that were kept on a persistent diet, meaning alterations
in the environment activated better cognitive performance in these
fish. The variation in learning abilities in the different groups of fish
stayed consistent between juvenile and adult fish tested one year
apart, suggesting that one variation in food accessibility can activate
enhanced cognitive abilities for the fishs life.
The limitations to the study were that 12 of the fish didnt live through
their juvenile stage to complete the test one year later when they
would have been adults.

Ashlee Crabtree
Biology 1615
Judy Bunkall

Works Cited:
Bigirimana, C. 2006. Simochromis pleurospilus. The IUCN Red List
of Threatened Species 2006: e.T60675A12383400.
en. Downloaded on 28 March 2016.
Kotrschal, A., & Taborsky, B. (2010). Environmental Change
Enhances Cognitive Abilities in Fish. PLoS Biology PLoS Biol, 8(4).
Retrieved March 6, 2016.