Social learning in otters
Royal Society Open Science
© 2017 The Authors. Open access. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
The use of information provided by others to tackle life’s challenges is widespread, but should not be employed indiscriminately if it is to be adaptive. Evidence is accumulating that animals are indeed selective and adopt ‘social learning strategies’. However, studies have generally focused on fish, bird and primate species. Here we extend research on social learning strategies to a taxonomic group that has been neglected until now: otters (subfamily Lutrinae). We collected social association data on captive groups of two gregarious species: smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata), known to hunt fish cooperatively in the wild, and Asian short clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus), which feed individually on prey requiring extractive foraging behaviours. We then presented otter groups with a series of novel foraging tasks, and inferred social transmission of task solutions with Network-Based Diffusion Analysis. We show that smooth-coated otters can socially learn how to exploit novel food sources and may adopt a ‘copy when young’ strategy. We found no evidence for social learning in the Asian short clawed otters. Otters are thus a promising model system for comparative research into social learning strategies, while conservation reintroduction programs may benefit from facilitating the social transmission of survival skills in these vulnerable species.
ZL was funded by an Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Undergraduate Project Scholarship. NJB was funded by a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from the Royal Society via the DOI in this record.
Published online 30 August 2017
Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as © 2017 The Authors. Open access. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.