|Individual variation in foraging sampling strategies and spatial cognition in a food-caching bird|
|Lauren M Benedict1, Angela M. Pitera1, Carrie L. Branch2, Benjamin R. Sonnenberg1, Virginia K. Heinen1, Eli S. Bridge3, Vladimir V. Pravosudov1. 1University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, United States; 2Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States; 3University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, United States
Unpredictable environments should favor the evolution of behavioral strategies aimed to reduce environmental uncertainty and allow better-informed decision-making. Changing weather conditions, behavior of other organisms and perishable resources lead to continual sources of uncertainty that may be reduced through information sampling, the cognitive process in which individuals update information previously learned through experience. In a foraging context, sampling likely involves learning and memory, as individuals must remember spatial locations and relearn associated contingencies to decide where and when to forage or sample next. While much research has been dedicated to modeling optimal sampling strategies, less work has sought to explain the substantial intraspecific variation in sampling strategies and in the cognitive traits that might be involved in sampling. Here, we test whether variation in individual foraging sampling strategies is associated with spatial cognitive abilities and environmental cues using a long-term dataset of sampling and spatial cognitive performance in wild, food-caching mountain chickadees.