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Seasonal changes in the hippocampal formation of hoarding and non-hoarding tits

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Henrik Lange, Dr Lauren WalkerORCiD, Dr Tom SmuldersORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The hippocampal formation (HF) processes spatial memories for cache locations in food-hoarding birds. Hoarding is a seasonal behavior, and seasonal changes in the HF have been described in some studies, but not in others. One potential reason is that birds may have been sampled during the seasonal hoarding peak in some studies, but not others. In this study, we investigate the seasonal changes in hoarding and HF in willow tits (Poecile montanus). We compare this to seasonal changes in HF in a closely-related non-hoarding bird, the great tit (Parus major). Willow tits near Oulu, Finland, show a seasonal hoarding peak in September and both HF volume and neuron number show a similar peak. HF neuronal density also increases in September, but then remains the same throughout winter. Unexpectedly, the great tit HF also changes seasonally, although in a different pattern: the great tit telencephalon increases in volume from July to August and decreases again in November. Great tit HF volume follows suit, but with a delay. Great tit HF neuron number and density also increase from August to September and stay high throughout winter. We hypothesize that seasonal changes in hoarding birds’ HF are driven by food-hoarding experience (e.g., the formation of thousands of memories). The seasonal changes in great tit brains may also be due to experience-dependent plasticity, responding to changes in social and spatial environment. Large-scale experience-dependent neural plasticity is therefore probably not an adaptation of food-hoarding birds, but a general property of the avian HF and telencephalon.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lange H, Walker L, Orell M, Smulders TV

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Learning & Behavior

Year: 2021

Volume: 50

Pages: 113-124

Print publication date: 01/03/2022

Online publication date: 11/08/2021

Acceptance date: 26/07/2021

Date deposited: 02/08/2021

ISSN (print): 1543-4494

ISSN (electronic): 1543-4508

Publisher: Springer Nature


DOI: 10.3758/s13420-021-00481-6


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/C006186/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)