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Using ecology to guide the study of cognitive and neural mechanisms of different aspects of spatial memory in food-hoarding animals

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD



Understanding the survival value of behaviour does not tell us how the mechanisms that control this behaviour work. Nevertheless, understanding survival value can guide the study of these mechanisms. In this paper, we apply this principle to understanding the cognitive mechanisms that support cache retrieval in scatter-hoarding animals. We believe it is too simplistic to predict that all scatter-hoarding animals will outperform non-hoarding animals on all tests of spatial memory. Instead, we argue that we should look at the detailed ecology and natural history of each species. This understanding of natural history then allows us to make predictions about which aspects of spatial memory should be better in which species. We use the natural hoarding behaviour of the three best-studied groups of scatter-hoarding animals to make predictions about three aspects of their spatial memory: duration, capacity and spatial resolution, and we test these predictions against the existing literature. Having laid out how ecology and natural history can be used to predict detailed cognitive abilities, we then suggest using this approach to guide the study of the neural basis of these abilities. We believe that this complementary approach will reveal aspects of memory processing that would otherwise be difficult to discover.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smulders TV, Gould KL, Leaver LA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2010

Volume: 365

Issue: 1542

Pages: 883-900

Print publication date: 27/03/2010

Date deposited: 03/08/2010

ISSN (print): 0962-8452

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2954

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0211


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