Researcher Uncovering Mysteries Of Memory By Studying Clever Bird
How does this little bird remember where he hid all those nuts? And for that matter, how do squirrels remember where they buried all their goodies too? Maybe they just hide so many in an area that they are bound to find them just by rooting around. On the other hand, maybe being called bird-brained or squirrel-brained isn't such a bad thing. Anyway, he's an awfully cute little bird.
ScienceDaily: Researcher Uncovering Mysteries Of Memory By Studying Clever Bird
Keeping track of one set of keys is difficult enough, but imagine having to remember the locations of thousands of sets of keys. Do you use landmarks to remember where you put them? Do you have a mental map of their locations?
Scientists at the University of New Hampshire hope to learn more about memory and its evolution by studying the Clark's nutcracker, a bird with a particularly challenging task: remembering where it buried its supply of food for winter in a 15-mile area. Like many animals preparing for the winter, every fall the Clark's nutcracker spends several weeks gathering food stores. What makes it unique is that it harvests more than 30,000 pine nuts, buries them in up to 5,000 caches, and then relies almost solely on its memory of where those caches are located to survive through winter.
[...]"Nutcrackers are almost exclusively dependent upon cache recovery for their survival so if they don't remember where they've made those caches, then they are in trouble," Gibson says. "During winter, their cache locations are covered with snow so many of the small local features in the landscape during fall are no longer available to them. What's clear is that they are using spatial memory to recover these caches. They are remembering these caches based on landmarks and other features of the terrain."
The study of memory is important for several reasons. It helps us understand how memory develops and evolves. It teaches us about how we and other species successfully navigate using memory. It provides insights across species about brain function and the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for memory and one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer's patients.
[...]His most recent research with the Clark's nutcracker looks at the nature of the spatial cues specified by memory -- how the bird uses these cues to find its food caches. "How do they use landmarks? What information do they remember about these landmarks? Are they using just one landmark as a beacon? Do they remember multiple landmarks and the geometrical relationship between those landmarks and the goal location?" Gibson says.
"These pine seeds are very small and these caches are very small so they have to be very accurate about how they use these landmarks to remember those cache locations," he says.