Social competition stimulates cognitive performance in a sex-specific manner

Rouse, James; McDowall, Laurin; Mitchell, Zak ORCID:; Duncan, Elizabeth J.; Bretman, Amanda. 2020 Social competition stimulates cognitive performance in a sex-specific manner. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 287 (1935), 20201424. 7, pp.

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Social interactions are thought to be a critical driver in the evolution of cognitive ability. Cooperative interactions, such as pair bonding, rather than competitive interactions have been largely implicated in the evolution of increased cognition. This is despite competition traditionally being a very strong driver of trait evolution. Males of many species track changes in their social environment and alter their reproductive strategies in response to anticipated levels of competition. We predict this to be cognitively challenging. Using a Drosophila melanogaster model, we are able to distinguish between the effects of a competitive environment versus generic social contact by exposing flies to same-sex same-species competition versus different species partners, shown to present non-competitive contacts. Males increase olfactory learning/memory and visual memory after exposure to conspecific males only, a pattern echoed by increased expression of synaptic genes and an increased need for sleep. For females, largely not affected by mating competition, the opposite pattern was seen. The results indicate that specific social contacts dependent on sex, not simply generic social stimulation, may be an important evolutionary driver for cognitive ability in fruit flies.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Soils and Land Use (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0962-8452
Additional Keywords: cognition, sperm competition, learning, memory, evolution, behaviour
NORA Subject Terms: Biology and Microbiology
Date made live: 29 Oct 2020 12:25 +0 (UTC)

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