Date of Graduation

Fall 2013


Master of Science in Biology



Committee Chair

Alicia Mathis


The ability of embryos to learn can prepare them for selective pressures, such as food availability and predation pressure, they will face after hatching. I tested the hypothesis that larval ringed salamanders (Ambystoma annulatum) exposed to a novel food scent as embryos will exhibit a preference for the scent post-hatching. Embryos were exposed to brine shrimp or a water control. After hatching, behavior of larvae was quantified following exposure to brine shrimp and to a novel scent (melon). Larvae that were exposed to brine shrimp as embryos were more attracted to both stimuli and contacted the brine shrimp stimulus more frequently. This experiment shows that embryos can alter their post-hatching behavior based upon the food that is available in their environment during development. In addition to being exposed to environmental cues directly, neonates also have the opportunity to gain information from conspecifics, potentially saving them time and exposure to predators. I tested the hypothesis that if an observer larva is paired with a demonstrator larva that exhibits an attraction to a novel food scent, then the observer larva will also exhibit an attraction to the novel scent when tested alone. Larvae were first trained with a demonstrator that was paired with brine shrimp or a water control, then tested alone 24 hr later for a preference. Larvae were more attracted to the stimulus that they had observed a demonstrator near during training. This experiment indicates that information can be socially transmitted among larvae.


embryonic learning, social learning, social transmission, stimulus enhancement, Ambystoma annulatum, learning, chemosensory cues, behavior

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© Emilee Jean Helton

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