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When a place is not a place: encoding of spatial information is dependent on reward type

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The adaptationist perspective investigates how an animal's cognition has been shaped by the informational properties of the environment. The information that is useful may vary from one context to another. In the current study we examine how manipulating the foraging context (the type of resource being foraged) could affect the way spatial information is used by the forager. Noisy miner birds (omnivorous honeyeaters) were given spatial working memory tasks in which they searched baited and unbaited feeders for either nectar or invertebrates. We hypothesised that noisy miners would encode the locations of baited and unbaited feeders equally well when foraging for nectar (all flowers, whether containing nectar or not are places to remember and avoid while foraging on a plant). When foraging for invertebrates, however, we predicted that noisy miner birds would not encode the locations of unbaited feeders as effectively as baited feeders (in a natural patch of invertebrates there is no cue to differentiate a point location where a prey item has not been found from the rest of the potentially homogenous patch). As predicted, birds foraging for invertebrates made more revisits to unbaited than baited feeders, with no such difference evident when birds were foraging for nectar.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Brain, Behaviour and Evolution, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia;, Email:; 2: School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, Ourimbah, NT, Australia


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