Positional inference in rhesus macaques

Abstract

Understanding how organisms make transitive inferences is critical to understanding their general ability to learn serial relationships. In this context, transitive inference (TI) can be understood as a specific heuristic that applies broadly to many different serial learning tasks, which have been the focus of hundreds of studies involving dozens of species. In the present study, monkeys learned the order of 7-item lists of photographic stimuli by trial and error, and were then tested on “derived” lists. These derived test lists combined stimuli from multiple training lists in ambiguous ways, sometimes changing their order relative to training. We found that subjects displayed strong preferences when presented with novel test pairs, even when those pairs were drawn from different training lists. These preferences were helpful when test pairs had an ordering congruent with their ranks during training, but yielded consistently below-chance performance when pairs had an incongruent order relative to training. This behavior can be explained by the joint contributions of transitive inference and another heuristic that we refer to as “positional inference.” Positional inferences play a complementary role to transitive inferences in facilitating choices between novel pairs of stimuli. The theoretical framework that best explains both transitive and positional inferences is a spatial model that represents both the position of each stimulus and its uncertainty. A computational implementation of this framework yields accurate predictions about both correct responses and errors on derived lists.

African elephants can detect water from natural and artificial sources via olfactory cues

Abstract

Water is vital for mammals. Yet, as ephemeral sources can be difficult to find, it raises the question, how do mammals locate water? Elephants (Loxodonta africana) are water-dependent herbivores that possess exceptional olfactory capabilities, and it has been suggested that they may locate water via smell. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. To explore this, we performed two olfactory choice experiments with semi-tame elephants. In the first, we tested whether elephants could locate water using olfactory cues alone. For this, we used water from two natural dams and a drinking trough utilised by the elephants. Distilled water acted as a control. In the second, we explored whether elephants could detect three key volatile organic compounds (VOCs) commonly associated with water (geosmin, 2-methylisoborneol, and dimethyl sulphide). We found that the elephants could locate water olfactorily, but not the distilled water. Moreover, they were also able to detect the three VOCs associated with water. However, these VOCs were not in the odour profiles of the water sources in our experiments. This suggests that the elephants were either able to detect the unique odour profiles of the different water sources or used other VOCs that they associate with water. Ultimately, our findings indicate that elephants can locate water olfactorily at small spatial scales, but the extent to which they, and other mammals, can detect water over larger scales (e.g. km) remains unclear.