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Basic understanding of the fundamental principles and mechanisms involved in learning is lacking for elasmobranch fishes. Our aim in this study was to experimentally investigate the learning and memory capacity of juvenile Port Jackson sharks, Heterodontus portusjacksoni. Sharks (N = 30) were conditioned over a 19-day period to associate an underwater LED light or stream of air-bubbles [conditioned stimulus (CS)] with a food reward [unconditioned stimulus (US)], using three procedures (delay, trace and control). During experiments, the CS signalled at a random time between 180 and 300 s for 30 s (six times per day). For the delay the US overlapped in time with the CS, for the trace the US delivered 10 s after the CS and for our control the US was delivered at random time between 180 and 300 s after the CS. H. portusjacksoni sharks trained in all procedures improved consistently in their time to obtain food, indicative of Pavlovian learning. Importantly, the number of sharks in the feeding area 5 s prior to CS onset did not change over time for any procedures. However, significantly more sharks were present 5 s after CS onset for delay for both air-bubble and light CS. Sharks trained in the delay and trace procedures using air-bubbles as the CS also displayed significantly more anticipatory behaviours, such as turning towards the CS and biting. Sharks trained with the light CS did not exhibit such behaviours; however, trace procedural sharks did show a significant improvement in moving towards the CS at its onset. At 20 and 40 days after the end of the conditioning experiments, some sharks were presented the CS without reward. Two sharks trained in the delay procedure using air-bubbles as the CS exhibited biting behaviours: one at 20 and the other at 40 days. This study demonstrates that H. portusjacksoni have the capacity to learn a classical conditioning procedure relatively quickly (30 trials during 5 days) and associate two time-separated events and retention of learnt associations for at least 24 h and possibly up to 40 days.


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