Behaviour 2019
Learning the rules: spatial serial reversal learning in wild food-caching chickadees
Lauren M. Benedict1, Virginia K. Heinen1, Benjamin R. Sonnenberg1, Eli S. Bridge2, Vladimir V. Pravosudov1. 1University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV, United States; 2University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, United States

Environmental information changes constantly – food sources appear and disappear, weather conditions change hourly, and mate quality fluctuates across seasons. Animals can adapt to constantly shifting information in their environments through learning and memory. However, the ability to relearn information and update contingencies – referred to as cognitive flexibility – may come at the cost of decreased overall learning and memory performance. Thus, in highly variable environments, animals should develop alternate strategies to reduce the cognitive load. One possible solution is to learn the rule and project the pattern forward to new situations. To explore this possibility, we alternated a food source daily between two locations and allowed wild mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli) to forage throughout the day. To successfully find the food, individuals could either relearn information every day about where the food was located or learn the rule and anticipate where the food would be located the next day. We use this modified spatial serial reversal learning task to investigate individual variation in cognitive flexibility and anticipatory ability in a wild, food-caching bird.