Early experience and domestication affect auditory discrimination learning, open field behaviour and brain size in wild Mongolian gerbils and domesticated laboratory gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus forma domestica)

Behav Brain Res. 2006 Oct 2;173(1):11-21. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2006.05.025. Epub 2006 Jul 17.


The influence of early experience and strain differences on auditory discrimination learning, open field behaviour and brain size was investigated in wild-type Mongolian gerbils (strain Ugoe:MU95) raised in the wild (wild F-0) or in the laboratory (wild F-1) and in domesticated Laboratory Gerbils (LAB). Adult males were conditioned for 10 days in a shuttle box go/no-go paradigm to discriminate two frequency-modulated tones. Significant learning was established within 5 days in wild F-0 and within 3 days in wild F-1 and LAB. Spontaneous jumps in the shuttle box (inter-trial crossings) were frequently seen in wild F-0 and F-1, but rarely in LAB. All groups exhibited nearly the same ability to remember after 2 weeks without training. In the open field test applied on 5 consecutive days, no differences in locomotion patterns and inner field preferences were found. Rearing frequency decreased over 5 days in wild gerbils. Running distances (4-6m/min) were similar in wild F-0 and LAB, but higher in wild F-1. The ratio of brain size to body weight did not differ between wild F-0 and F-1, but was 17.1% lower in LAB. Correspondingly high brain weights in wild F-1 and F-0 support our domestication hypothesis and negate any serious effect of early experience or captivity on brain size in Mongolian gerbils. In contrast, wild F-1 raised in the laboratory show a rapid improvement in learning performance, indicating that early experience rather that genetic differences between strains affect shuttle box discrimination learning in gerbils.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory
  • Animals, Wild
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Environment*
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Gerbillinae / anatomy & histology
  • Gerbillinae / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Organ Size
  • Species Specificity