Jumping spiders and aposematic prey: The role of contextual cues during avoidance learning
A large number of studies on both animals and humans have demonstrated that learning is influenced by context, or secondary cues that are present when an association is formed. The mechanistic aspects of context-dependent memory retrieval, or the context shift effect, have been well studied in strictly controlled laboratory settings. However, the adaptive value of attending to contextual cues in ecologically relevant situations has received considerably less attention. The goal of this dissertation is to examine the functional value of attending to context during learning. The jumping spider Phidippus princeps is capable of learning the ecologically relevant task of avoiding aposematic prey. However, when spiders were tested in an environment different from the one in which they were trained, attack rates increased and spiders no longer demonstrated retention of the association. Subsequent experiments demonstrated that spiders can use contextual cues to inform adaptive decisions about patch selection based on experience with prey of varying palatability or electric shock. Lastly, learning to avoid prey across a consistent contextual background versus a variable background produces initial differences in rates of learned avoidance, while ultimately learning performance between the groups is similar. Thus, contextual information (either in its constancy or variability) is an important component of avoidance learning in jumping spiders and can be valuable information in adaptive decision-making.
0384: Behaviorial sciences