Behaviour 2019
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Social dominance and spatial cognition in wild food-caching birds
Virginia K. Heinen1, Lauren M. Benedict1, Angela M. Pitera1, Benjamin R. Sonnenberg1, Eli S. Bridge2, Vladimir V. Pravosudov1. 1University of Nevada Reno, Reno, NV, United States; 2University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, United States

In social groups, dominance is typically associated with benefits such as access to more food sources and safer foraging locations. Subordinates then experience higher stress, more uncertainty when foraging, and higher mortality, all of which can influence cognitive performance. Wild mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli), food-caching parids, spend the winter in social groups with stable, linear dominance hierarchies. In laboratory studies, subordinate mountain chickadees cached less, retrieved fewer caches, and performed worse on spatial memory tests compared to their dominant groupmates. Here, we expanded on these findings by testing whether differences in social dominance status in wild mountain chickadees were associated with differences in cognitive performance in spatial learning and memory or in reversal spatial cognitive tasks. We used our established spatial arrays of radio frequency identification (RFID)-equipped feeders to record individuals' visits to the feeders prior to and during two spatial cognitive tasks, and used these temporal data to infer their dominance relationships.