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What are the costs of learning? Modest trade-offs and constitutive costs do not set the price of fast associative learning ability in a parasitoid wasp

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Abstract

International audience Learning ability has been associated with energetic costs that typically become apparent through trade-offs in a wide range of developmental, physiological, and life-history traits. Costs associated with learning ability can be either constitutive or induced, depending on whether they are always incurred or only when information is actively learned and memorized. Using lines of the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis that were selected for fast associative learning ability, we assessed a range of traits that have previously been identified as potential costs associated with learning. No difference in longevity, lipid reserves, tibia length, egg load, or fecundity was observed between the selected and control lines. All of these traits are considered to potentially lead to constitutive costs in the setup of this study. A gradual reversal to baseline learning after two forms of relaxed selection was indicative of a small constitutive cost of learning ability. We also tested for a trade-off with other memory types formed at later stages, but found no evidence that the mid-term memory that was selected for caused a decrease in performance of other memory types. In conclusion, we observe only one minor effect of a constitutive cost and none of the other costs and trade-offs that are reported in the literature to be of significant value in this case. We, therefore, argue for better inclusion of ecological and economic costs in studies on costs and benefits of learning ability.

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