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Supplementary Materials from Natural variation in developmental condition has limited effect on spatial cognition in a wild food-caching bird

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journal contribution
posted on 19.09.2022, 05:34 authored by Benjamin R. Sonnenberg, Virginia K. Heinen, Angela M. Pitera, Lauren M. Benedict, Carrie L. Branch, Eli S. Bridge, Jenny Ouyang, Vladimir V. Pravosudov
Laboratory studies show that increased physiological burden during development results in cognitive impairment. In the wild, animals experience a wide range of developmental conditions, and it is critical to understand how variation in such conditions affects cognitive abilities later in life, especially in species that strongly depend on such abilities for survival. We tested whether variation in developmental condition is associated with differences in spatial cognitive abilities in wild food-caching mountain chickadees. Using tail feathers grown during development in juvenile birds, we measured feather corticosterone (Cortf) levels and growth rates and tested these birds during their first winter on two spatial learning tasks. In only 1 of the 3 years, higher feather Cortf was negatively associated with memory acquisition. No significant associations between feather Cortf and any other measurement of spatial cognition were detected in the other 2 years of the study or between feather growth rate and any measurement of cognition during the entire study. Our results suggest that in the wild, naturally existing variation in developmental condition has only a limited effect on spatial cognitive abilities, at least in a food-caching species. This suggests that there may be compensatory mechanisms to buffer specialized cognitive abilities against developmental perturbations.