Evaluating the accuracy of facial expressions as emotion indicators across contexts in dogs

Abstract

Facial expressions potentially serve as indicators of animal emotions if they are consistently present across situations that (likely) elicit the same emotional state. In a previous study, we used the Dog Facial Action Coding System (DogFACS) to identify facial expressions in dogs associated with conditions presumably eliciting positive anticipation (expectation of a food reward) and frustration (prevention of access to the food). Our first aim here was to identify facial expressions of positive anticipation and frustration in dogs that are context-independent (and thus have potential as emotion indicators) and to distinguish them from expressions that are reward-specific (and thus might relate to a motivational state associated with the expected reward). Therefore, we tested a new sample of 28 dogs with a similar set-up designed to induce positive anticipation (positive condition) and frustration (negative condition) in two reward contexts: food and toys. The previous results were replicated: Ears adductor was associated with the positive condition and Ears flattener, Blink, Lips part, Jaw drop, and Nose lick with the negative condition. Four additional facial actions were also more common in the negative condition. All actions except the Upper lip raiser were independent of reward type. Our second aim was to assess basic measures of diagnostic accuracy for the potential emotion indicators. Ears flattener and Ears downward had relatively high sensitivity but low specificity, whereas the opposite was the case for the other negative correlates. Ears adductor had excellent specificity but low sensitivity. If the identified facial expressions were to be used individually as diagnostic indicators, none would allow consistent correct classifications of the associated emotion. Diagnostic accuracy measures are an essential feature for validity assessments of potential indicators of animal emotion.

Using predator feces as a repellent for free-ranging urban capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris)

Abstract

Biological repellents have been used as a control method to mitigate human-wildlife conflict worldwide. We aimed to evaluate the effect of jaguar (Panthera onca) feces as a repellent for a free-living urban population of capybaras (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), which are considered a vertebrate pest in some regions of their range. Observational data were collected during two consecutive 5-day periods: control and treatment. Scan samples within a 2-h observational session were carried out, recording capybara incursions into a 15 m × 15 m marked perimeter and alertness behavioral state. During the treatment period, 30 g of jaguar feces were added daily every 5.0 m around the perimeter in four selected areas (around Lake Paranoa, Brasilia, Brazil) frequented by capybara. The presence of predator feces induced changes in capybaras’ behavior as there was a decrease in actual presence at the sites as a whole with the presence of jaguar feces. Of those capybaras that did continue to visit a site, incursions into the marked perimeter were initially greatly reduced, but did rebound relatively rapidly over the trial period. Although our results showed that capybaras recognize jaguar’s feces as a predator threat, odor habituation may limit the repellent’s efficacy at a local level, but appeared to have a longer term effect on the overall numbers of capybara visiting a site in general. Improvements in this technique will be required for it to become practicable, to reinforce capybaras’ aversion to predators, to decrease their habituation to predator’s feces, and to provide more humanitarian control.

Quantity discrimination in a spontaneous task in a poison frog

Abstract

The use of quantitative information underlies a range of animal behaviors. There are thought to be two parallel systems for judging quantity: a precise representation of small numbers of objects, typically less than 4, that can be tracked visually (object tracking system) and an imprecise system for larger quantities (approximate number system) governed by Weber’s law. Using a spontaneous discrimination task with live prey, we examined the ability of the poison frog Dendrobates auratus to discriminate quantities of low (1–4) or high (4–16) numerosity over a range of ratio contrasts (0.33, 0.5, 0.67, 0.75). Similar to a previous study in treefrogs, we found that the poison frogs chose the larger quantity of flies when choosing between 1 and 3 and between 1 and 2. However, their performance was near chance when choosing between 2 and 3 and below chance when choosing between 3 and 4. When the numerosity of flies was higher, they did not discriminate between the larger and smaller quantity. Our findings are consistent with the ability of poison frogs to discriminate small quantities of objects using an object tracking system, but could also reflect a singular vs. plural discrimination. We did not find evidence of an approximate number system governed by Weber’s law, nor evidence of a speed–accuracy tradeoff. However, total set size was associated with lower accuracy and longer latencies to choose. Future studies should explore quantity discrimination in additional contexts to better understand the limits of these abilities in poison frogs.

Effects of early noise exposure on hippocampal-dependent behaviors during adolescence in male rats: influence of different housing conditions

Abstract

Central nervous system (CNS) development is a very complex process that can be altered by environmental stimuli such as noise, which can generate long-term auditory and/or extra-auditory impairments. We have previously reported that early noise exposure can induce hippocampus-related behavioral alterations in postnatal day (PND) 28 adolescent rats. Furthermore, we recently found biochemical modifications in the hippocampus (HC) of these animals that seemed to endure even in more mature animals (i.e. PND35) and that have not been studied along with behavioral correlates. Thus, the aim of this work was to reveal novel data about the effects of early noise exposure on hippocampal-dependent behaviors in more mature animals. Additionally, extended enriched environment (EE) housing was evaluated to determine its capacity to induce behavioral modifications, either by its neuroprotective ability or the greater stimulation that it generates. Male Wistar rats were exposed to different noise schemes at PND7 or PND15. Upon weaning, some animals were transferred to EE whereas others were kept in standard cages. At PND35, different hippocampal-dependent behavioral assessments were performed. Results showed noise-induced behavioral changes that differed according to the scheme and age of exposure used. In addition, housing in an EE was effective either in preventing some of these changes or in inducing the appearance of new behavioral modifications. These findings suggest that CNS development would be sensitive to the effects of different type of environmental stimuli such as noise or enriched housing, leading to maladaptive behavioral changes that last even until adolescence.

Putting the cart before the horse: claims for mirror self-recognition in horses are unfounded

Abstract

The recent article by Baragli, Scopa, Maglieri, and Palagi (Anim Cogn https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-021-01502-7, 2021) that claims to demonstrate mirror self-recognition (MSR) in horses is not based on compelling evidence. We identify problems with their experimental procedures, data, and assertion about “demonstrating MSR at group level.” Examples of these problems include incomplete experimental design, absence of important control conditions, inappropriate terminology, suboptimal mark application procedures and coding of videos, ambiguity of videos presented as supporting evidence, and inconsistencies in data presentation and interpretation. It is not the case that their study “marks a turning point in the analytical technique of MSR exploration.”

Domestic cats (Felis catus) prefer freely available food over food that requires effort

Abstract

Contrafreeloading is the willingness of animals to work for food when equivalent food is freely available. This behavior is observed in laboratory, domesticated, and captive animals. However, previous research found that six laboratory cats failed to contrafreeload. We hypothesized that cats would contrafreeload in the home environment when given a choice between a food puzzle and a tray of similar size and shape. We also hypothesized that more active cats would be more likely to contrafreeload. We assessed the behavior of 17 neutered, indoor domestic cats (Felis catus) when presented with both a food puzzle and a tray across ten 30-min trials. Each cat wore an activity tracker, and all sessions were video recorded. Cats ate more food from the free feed tray than the puzzle (t (16) = 6.77, p < 0.001). Cats made more first choices to approach and eat from the tray. There was no relationship between activity and contrafreeloading, and there was no effect of sex, age, or previous food puzzle experience on contrafreeloading. Our results suggest that cats do not show strong tendencies to contrafreeload in the home environment, although some cats (N = 4) ate most food offered in the puzzle or showed weak contrafreeloading tendencies (N = 5). Eight cats did not contrafreeload. Cats who consumed more food from the puzzle, consumed more food in general, suggesting a relationship between hunger and effort. Further research is required to understand why domestic cats, unlike other tested species, do not show a strong preference to work for food.