ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION: Migrant Memory

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Science  30 May 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5624, pp. 1343c
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5624.1343c

Migrant birds fly to the same overwintering and summer breeding regions each year. Furthermore, in many species, individuals also return to the same precise location, a feat that would be expected to require a good spatial memory. Mettke-Hoffmann and Gwinner compared the memory for particular feeding grounds in two species of warbler: one migrant and one nonmigrant. In their experimental design, captive birds were allowed to explore a number of “rooms” in their enclosures, some containing food and others empty. The birds were then exposed to the same rooms at intervals of up to 1 year after the initial exposure. The migratory garden warblers displayed a significant preference for the rooms that had contained food a year earlier, whereas the nonmigratory Sardinian warblers were unable to remember the same rooms after only 2 weeks. These results indicate a link between migratory behavior and long-term memory.—AMS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 100, 5863 (2003).

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