Rule of Thumb in Mammalian Herbivores
In two experiments on appetitive learning we conditioned lambs,Ovis aries, to particular concentrations of a flavour by mixing the flavour with an energy-rich food that complemented their energy-poor diet. The lambs were subsequently offered energy-rich food with five different concentrations of the flavour (the concentration to which they were conditioned, two higher concentrations, and two lower concentrations). At these tests, the lambs consistently preferred the weaker flavours. This finding stands in contrast to earlier results on generalization gradients. In a third experiment, similarly designed to the other two, we tested for effects of a strong flavour on the behaviour of lambs when they were offered a novel nutritious food. Half of the lambs were offered unadulterated wheat, and the others strongly flavoured wheat. We found that the flavour in itself was initially aversive. We propose that the lambs' avoidance of foods with strong flavours may be an expression of a rule of thumb of the type ‘given a choice, avoid food with strong flavours’. Such a rule could be part of a risk-averse foraging strategy displayed by mammalian herbivores, and which could be of particular importance when they encounter unfamiliar foods.
Augner, Magnus; Provenza, Frederick D.; Villalba, Jauan J. 1998. Rule of Thumb in Mammalian Herbivores. Animal Behavior 56(2): 337-345.