Mather, Jennifer

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    Octopus consciousness: the role of perceptual richness
    (MDPI, 2021) Mather, Jennifer
    It is always difficult to even advance possible dimensions of consciousness, but Birch et al., 2020 have suggested four possible dimensions and this review discusses the first, perceptual richness, with relation to octopuses. They advance acuity, bandwidth, and categorization power as possible components. It is first necessary to realize that sensory richness does not automatically lead to perceptual richness and this capacity may not be accessed by consciousness. Octopuses do not discriminate light wavelength frequency (color) but rather its plane of polarization, a dimension that we do not understand. Their eyes are laterally placed on the head, leading to monocular vision and head movements that give a sequential rather than simultaneous view of items, possibly consciously planned. Details of control of the rich sensorimotor system of the arms, with 3/5 of the neurons of the nervous system, may normally not be accessed to the brain and thus to consciousness. The chromatophore-based skin appearance system is likely open loop, and not available to the octopus’ vision. Conversely, in a laboratory situation that is not ecologically valid for the octopus, learning about shapes and extents of visual figures was extensive and flexible, likely consciously planned. Similarly, octopuses’ local place in and navigation around space can be guided by light polarization plane and visual landmark location and is learned and monitored. The complex array of chemical cues delivered by water and on surfaces does not fit neatly into the components above and has barely been tested but might easily be described as perceptually rich. The octopus’ curiosity and drive to investigate and gain more information may mean that, apart from richness of any stimulus situation, they are consciously driven to seek out more information. This review suggests that cephalopods may not have a similar type of intelligence as the ‘higher’ vertebrates, they may not have similar dimensions or contents of consciousness, but that such a capacity is present nevertheless.
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    Why are octopuses going to be the 'poster child' for invertebrate welfare?
    (Taylor & Francis, 2022) Mather, Jennifer
    Animal welfare consideration and actions are generally addressed to animals similar to us, predominantly large mammals. Invertebrates are neglected partly because they are unknown, though new exploration of the oceans has helped with this. Also, we know little about their ecology and welfare. This is gradually changing, and the octopuses are likely to be the first beneficiaries. Scientists are finding that cephalopods are far more intelligent than we thought, with the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness suggesting they might possess this quality of mind. Partly as a result, the European Union has described and demanded good care for cephalopods such as the octopus in captivity. Public opinion has been swayed to approval by anecdotes of octopuses doing unusual actions, and by several recent books pointing out interesting and intelligent behavior of cephalopods. Aquariums have begun to feature octopuses for them. With this progress, welfare of invertebrate animals has begun to matter. While the octopuses will be the first animal group to benefit, they may pave the way for us to see that different does not mean unworthy of regard and welfare consideration.
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    Geographic variability of Octopus insularis diet: from oceanic island to continental populations
    (Inter Research, 2016) Leite, Tatiana S.; Batista, Allan T.; Lima, Francoise D.; Barbosa, Jaciana C.; Mather, Jennifer
    A predator’s choice of prey can be affected by many factors. We evaluated various influences on population dietary composition, individual specialization and size of prey in Octopus insularis populations from 2 continental and 4 insular locations. We expected that habitat diversity would lead to diet heterogeneity. Furthermore, in keeping with MacArthur & Wilson’s (1967) theory of island biogeography, we expected that diet diversity would be lower around islands than on the coast of the mainland. Both predictions were confirmed when prey remains from octopus middens were examined. The 2 continental areas exhibited a richer habitat diversity and a wider variety of prey. Niche widths in the continental areas were 2.42 and 2.03, with the lowest niche widths exhibited by the population from the most distant oceanic islands (1.30, 0.85). We found variation in the proportion of specialist relative to generalist individuals across areas based on the proportional similarity index. The correlation between habitat diversity and niche width (R2 = 0.84) was highly significant, as was distance from the continental shelf and niche width (R2 = 0.89). This study reaffirms the central position of octopuses in the nearshore benthic ecosystem, and supports MacArthur & Wilson’s (1967) prediction of a lower diversity of species on islands—which applies not only to the species themselves, but also indirectly for the diet of their predators.
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    What do professors want to learn to improve their teaching
    (University of Windsor, 2009) Mather, Jennifer A.
    This paper recounts the author’s experience with giving a Needs Assessment for improvement by university teachers. Subjects were from the University of Lethbridge and the 2008 Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference session. Teachers at the University (n=77) indicated they could spend 5-15 hours in teaching development per semester and wanted a variety of information access but favoured quick one-hour workshops. STLHE participants (n=34) were willing to attend three-hour workshops and spend more time per semester (over 20 hours) improving their teaching. Topics that both groups wanted to hear about were teaching efficiently, using student feedback, fostering critical thinking, and marking fairly. STLHE participants were more interested in fostering group work, student writing, and dealing with student disabilities and diversity, whereas the University sample cared more about preventing cheating and presenting the results of their teaching for promotion and tenure. All in all, there were many things that teachers wanted to learn.
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    Exploration and habituation in intact free moving Octopus vulgaris
    (University of California eScholarship, 2006) Kuba, Michael J.; Byrne, Ruth A.; Meisel, Daniela V.; Mather, Jennifer A.
    Despite the huge numbers of studies published on the learning of cephalopod mollusks, studies on non-associative learning are scarce. We tested non-associative learning (habituation) and exploration in Octopus vulgaris in two different studies using a prey-shaped object (Study A) and inanimate objects and food objects (Study B). Study A consisted of the repeated presentation of a prey-like stimulus, which 23 subjects could only explore visually. In study B, 14 octopuses were presented two Lego blocks (one black and white with a smooth surface, one a blue "snowflake" with a rough surface) and two food items, one preferred (clams) and one non-preferred (mussels) inside their home tanks. As hunger is a motivational factor for exploratory behavior, different levels of food satiation (feeding 2h or 24 h prior to experiments) were tested. Within trial habituation was clearly documented in both experiments. In study A across trials habituation was found for all animals, whereas it was only significant in 5 animals in Study B.