Testing the contribution of relative brain size and learning capabilities on the evolution of Octopus vulgaris and other cephalopods

Borrelli, Luciana (2008). Testing the contribution of relative brain size and learning capabilities on the evolution of Octopus vulgaris and other cephalopods. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000fd8d


Here I search for the potential relationship between behavioural flexibility and brains in cephalopods, within and between species, following the behavioural drive (Wyles et al., 1983).

At the intra-specific level (Octopus vulgaris), I evaluated whether differences in performance between individuals reflected differences in body and brain size and the effect of other intervening factors (e.g. sex, site of capture).

In order to do so, a battery of eight consecutive experiments (spanning over 12 days) was presented to a total of 55 naive octopuses (other 46 animals figured as controls). I utilized Octopus' predatory behaviour to measure its: ability to adapt to the captive condition (Acclimatization); response towards novel stimuli (Neophobia); capability of social learning; capacity to apply previous experience to a novel context (Innovation), and response to artificial balls (Preferences and Individual learning).

The results show that octopuses were able to adjust their predatory behaviour to the multitude of tasks they were faced with. Performances were distributed along a continuum characterized by a progressively: quicker recovery in predatory performance, higher success rate in problem-solving tasks and higher exploration rate. Age appeared to be correlated with the exploratory behaviour of the animals. Moreover, I found that environment and life history traits could affect Octopus' behaviour and learning capabilities.

I discuss these findings following the current literature on cephalopods and other animal models, including vertebrates.

At the inter-specific level, I attempted to relate the brain size and the behaviour of cephalopods with their life history, ecology and distribution.

I found a good relationship between cerebrotypes and life styles in this taxon My results support the working hypothesis that the taxon evolved different sensorial and computational strategies to cope with the various environments (niches) occupied in the oceans. This study is novel for invertebrates, to the best of my knowledge.

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