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The insight that animals’ cognitive abilities are linked to their evolutionary history, and hence their ecology, provides the framework for the comparative approach. Despite primates renowned dietary complexity and social cognition, including cooperative abilities, we here demonstrate that cleaner wrasse outperform three primate species, capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and orang-utans, in a foraging task involving a choice between two actions, both of which yield identical immediate rewards, but only one of which yields an additional delayed reward. The foraging task decisions involve partner choice in cleaners: they must service visiting client reef fish before resident clients to access both; otherwise the former switch to a different cleaner. Wild caught adult, but not juvenile, cleaners learned to solve the task quickly and relearned the task when it was reversed. The majority of primates failed to perform above chance after 100 trials, which is in sharp contrast to previous studies showing that primates easily learn to choose an action that yields immediate double rewards compared to an alternative action. In conclusion, the adult cleaners’ ability to choose a superior action with initially neutral consequences is likely due to repeated exposure in nature, which leads to specific learned optimal foraging decision rules.


This article was originally published in the open access journal PLoS ONE. Copyright © 2012 Salwiczek et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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