Does social environment influence learning ability in a family-living lizard?

Julia L Riley, Daniel W A Noble, Richard William Byrne, Martin J Whiting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Early developmental environment can have profound effects on individual physiology, behaviour, and learning. In birds and mammals social isolation during development is known to negatively affect learning ability; yet in other taxa, like reptiles, the effect of social isolation during development on learning ability is unknown. We investigated how social environment affects learning ability in the family-living tree skink (Egernia striolata). We hypothesized that early social environment shapes cognitive development in skinks, and predicted that skinks raised in social isolation would have reduced learning ability compared to skinks raised socially. Offspring were separated at birth into two treatments: (1) raised alone, or (2) in a pair. After one year we quantified spatial learning ability of skinks in these treatments (N = 14 solitary, 14 social). We found no effect of treatment on learning ability. The number of skinks to successfully learn the task, the number of trials taken to learn the task, the latency to perform the task, and the number of errors in each trial did not differ between isolated and socially-reared skinks. Our results were unexpected, yet the facultative nature of this species’ social system may result in a reduced effect of social isolation on behaviour when compared to species with obligate sociality. Overall, our findings do not provide evidence that social environment affects development of spatial learning ability in this family-living lizard.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-458
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
Early online date26 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • Squamate
  • Sociality
  • Cognition
  • Ontogeny
  • Facultative sociality


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