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Dealing with the unexpected: the effect of environmental variability on behavioural flexibility in a Mediterranean lizard

In: Behaviour
Authors:
Gilles De MeesterDepartment of Biology, Functional Morphology Group, University of Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium
Department of Biology, Section of Zoology and Marine Biology, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece

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Alkyoni Sfendouraki-BasakarouDepartment of Biology, Section of Zoology and Marine Biology, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece

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Panayiotis PafilisDepartment of Biology, Section of Zoology and Marine Biology, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece

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Raoul Van DammeDepartment of Biology, Functional Morphology Group, University of Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium

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Abstract

Harsh and variable environments have been hypothesized to both drive and constrain the evolution towards higher cognitive abilities and behavioural flexibility. In this study, we compared the cognitive abilities of island and mainland Aegean wall lizards (Podarcis erhardii), which were expected to live in respectively a more variable and a more stable habitat. We used four proxies of behavioural flexibility: a neophobia assay, a problem-solving test and a spatial + reversal learning task. Surprisingly, the two populations did not differ in neophobia or problem-solving. Insular lizards, however, outperformed mainland conspecifics in an initial spatial learning task, but were less successful during the subsequent reversal learning. Our results thus seem to indicate that the effect of environmental variability on cognition is complex, as it may favour some, but not all aspects of behavioural flexibility.

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