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FILIAL SOCIAL BOND FORMATION IN FRY OF THE MATERNAL MOUTHBROODING TILAPIA (PISCES: CICHLIDAE): A COMPARATIVE STUDY

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The mother - fry relationship in the maternal mouthbrooding species of tilapia has become a model of social bond formation in fish because of the relatively extensive care given to the young. This relationship has been extensively studied in Oreochromis mossambicus. In order to determine if the response pattern observed in O. mossambicus fry has broader applications, the critical experiments of these studies were replicated in two closely related species of maternal mouthbrooding tilapia, O. niloticus and O. esculentus. All fry used in the study were removed from their mother's mouth as eggs and hatched artificially in groups. The fry were also exposed to maternal models in groups, but all fry in the study were tested for their responsiveness or preferential behaviour to maternal models individually. Experiment I determined the responsiveness of fry naive to maternal models in order to establish a baseline for future comparisons. O. niloticus fry exhibited a significant decline in responsiveness to models between days 11 and 12 post-hatching while O. esculentus fry exhibited a significant decline between days 16 and 18, suggesting the possible existence of a sensitive period in these two species. In order to obtain evidence for the existence of a sensitive period, naive fry of both species in Experiment II were exposed to maternal models at their peak of responsiveness and then tested at a later age at which responsiveness in naive fry had fallen significantly. In 15 of the 18 comparisons involving the two species, exposure to a maternal model at the peak of responsiveness for naive fry prevented the later decline in responsiveness. Experiment III examined whether experience with maternal models effected how exclusively fry responded to such models in the future. It was predicted that, like O. mossambicus fry, experienced fry of both species would exhibit a decline in responsiveness to models that formed at least a partial mismatch with the fry's initial schema for maternal stimuli. This prediction was not supported. Experiment IV examined preferential behaviour. It was predicted that fry exposed to a maternal model would later behave preferentially toward whichever model of a pair formed a closer match with their schema, and not necessarily toward the model to which they had been previously exposed. Maternally naive fry were not expected to behave preferentially. These predictions were generally supported, although the effect was less vigorous or consistent than in O. mossambicus. Filial social bond formation in these species of maternal mouthbrooding tilapia appears to be characterized by strong predispositions for maternally relevant visual stimuli which require appropriate experience for their maintenance and for the induction of preferences. Since a similar developmental pattern in seen in (e.g.) song learning in passerine birds, imprinting in precocial birds and filial following in substrate spawning cichlid fish, the phenomenon appears to be of broad significance.

10.1163/156853999501478
/content/journals/10.1163/156853999501478
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/content/journals/10.1163/156853999501478
1999-06-01
2016-12-06

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