Research Highlights | Published:

Zoology

Mother's stress slows learning

Nature volume 490, page 8 (04 October 2012) | Download Citation

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Image: B. WATTS/ALAMY

Female sticklebacks that are confronted by predators while producing eggs generate offspring with impaired learning abilities.

Katie McGhee of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleagues used a fake predator to repeatedly chase one set of female threespined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus; pictured), while leaving another set to produce their eggs in peace. Adult offspring from both groups initially showed similar performances in a task in which the animals learned to associate the colour blue with a food reward. But after five days of the task, the offspring of mothers exposed to predators took twice as long to find the food as did the control group.

At least in these fish, maternal stress can have long-lasting effects on the learning ability of offspring, the authors say.

Image: B. WATTS/ALAMY

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https://doi.org/10.1038/490008c

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