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King Creativity at Southwestern

I Am A Real Shark!

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Delia Shelton, Heather Decker and Leah Christian
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Jesse Purdy

Leah Christian, Heather Decker, and Delia Shelton The behavior systems view attempts to understand the role of learning to enhance reproductive success within the context of the animal’s evolutionary and developmental history. In Palovian conditioning this account has focused on the conditioned response of an animal to a stimulus of biological significance based on the organism’s pre-organized, perceptual, motivational and motor organization. In the present study, we developed a behavioral systems view of the anti-predatory behavior of Mummichogs (Fundulus heteroclitus), a small fish, under high predation risk, found in the estuaries and shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico. To simulate a predatory attack we modified a remote-controlled shark by equipping it with a camera and a remote controlled light. Construction of the robotic shark required four prototypes in which a remote controlled shark was modified with varying degrees of success. In the final phase we used a commercially available underwater camera that came equipped with blue lights that could be switched on remotely by the user.

Click for a closeup In the experiment, paired and unpaired groups of Mummichogs received presentations of the robotic shark and the blue light. For Mummichogs in group Paired, fish received two trial types. During type 1 trials the blue light was on and the robotic shark was caused to attack the group of fish. During type 2 trials, the blue light was not on and the robotic shark swam at the top of the tank and did not attack. In the Unpaired group, Mummichogs received four trial types. In trial type 1 fish received presentations of the attacking shark with the blue light on. In trial type 2, the shark attacked, but the blue light was not on. In trial types 3 and 4, the shark never attacked. In type 3 trials, the blue light was on. In type 4 trials, the blue light was off. We predicted that Mummichogs would learn to associate the blue light with attack in the Paired group, but not in the Unpaired group. Preliminary results suggest that Mummichogs are able to associate the blue light with attack and demonstrate the possibility that defensive behaviors produced by Mummichogs are a result of or at least modified by learning. Results are discussed in light of the role that learning plays in increasing fitness and in light of Timberlake’s behavioral systems views.