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Effects of laboratory housing on exploratory behaviour, novelty discrimination and spatial reference memory in a subterranean, solitary rodent, the Cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis)


Oosthuizen, Maria Kathleen; Scheibler, Anne-Gita; Bennett, Nigel Charles; Amrein, Irmgard (2013). Effects of laboratory housing on exploratory behaviour, novelty discrimination and spatial reference memory in a subterranean, solitary rodent, the Cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis). PLoS ONE, 8(9):e75863.

Abstract

A large number of laboratory and field based studies are being carried out on mole-rats, both in our research group and others. Several studies have highlighted the development of adverse behaviours in laboratory animals and have emphasised the importance of enrichment for captive animals. Hence we were interested in evaluating how laboratory housing would affect behavioural performance in mole-rats. We investigated exploratory behaviour, the ability to discriminate between novel and familiar environments and reference memory in the solitary Cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis). Our data showed that both wild and captive animals readily explore open spaces and tunnels. Wild animals were however more active than their captive counterparts. In the Y maze two trial discrimination task, wild animals failed to discriminate between novel and familiar environments, while laboratory housed mole-rats showed preferential spatial discrimination in terms of the length of time spent in the novel arm. The performance of the laboratory and wild animals were similar when tested for reference memory in the Y maze, both groups showed a significant improvement compared to the first day, from the 3rd day onwards. Wild animals made more mistakes whereas laboratory animals were slower in completing the task. The difference in performance between wild and laboratory animals in the Y-maze may be as a result of the lower activity of the laboratory animals. Laboratory maintained Cape mole-rats show classic behaviours resulting from a lack of stimulation such as reduced activity and increased aggression. However, they do display an improved novelty discrimination compared to the wild animals. Slower locomotion rate of the laboratory animals may increase the integration time of stimuli, hence result in a more thorough inspection of the surroundings. Unlike the captive animals, wild animals show flexibility in their responses to unpredictable events, which is an important requirement under natural living conditions.

A large number of laboratory and field based studies are being carried out on mole-rats, both in our research group and others. Several studies have highlighted the development of adverse behaviours in laboratory animals and have emphasised the importance of enrichment for captive animals. Hence we were interested in evaluating how laboratory housing would affect behavioural performance in mole-rats. We investigated exploratory behaviour, the ability to discriminate between novel and familiar environments and reference memory in the solitary Cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis). Our data showed that both wild and captive animals readily explore open spaces and tunnels. Wild animals were however more active than their captive counterparts. In the Y maze two trial discrimination task, wild animals failed to discriminate between novel and familiar environments, while laboratory housed mole-rats showed preferential spatial discrimination in terms of the length of time spent in the novel arm. The performance of the laboratory and wild animals were similar when tested for reference memory in the Y maze, both groups showed a significant improvement compared to the first day, from the 3rd day onwards. Wild animals made more mistakes whereas laboratory animals were slower in completing the task. The difference in performance between wild and laboratory animals in the Y-maze may be as a result of the lower activity of the laboratory animals. Laboratory maintained Cape mole-rats show classic behaviours resulting from a lack of stimulation such as reduced activity and increased aggression. However, they do display an improved novelty discrimination compared to the wild animals. Slower locomotion rate of the laboratory animals may increase the integration time of stimuli, hence result in a more thorough inspection of the surroundings. Unlike the captive animals, wild animals show flexibility in their responses to unpredictable events, which is an important requirement under natural living conditions.

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4 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Anatomy
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:24 Feb 2014 07:55
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 17:42
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1932-6203
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0075863
PubMed ID:24040422
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-93396

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