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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pattern learning and spatial memory in rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) McIntyre, Gordon D.


In this study I examined spatial learning and memory in rufous hummingbirds. In laboratory experiments, hummingbirds rapidly learned 2 -dimensional patterns of rewards. They used landmarks to find reward sites. Once birds were visiting most feeders in rewarding areas and avoiding most feeders in non-rewarding areas, they persisted in the same areas after their profitabilities were reversed. This is strong evidence for cognitive mapping. Persistence subsided rapidly once the birds' behaviour was no longer applicable, followed rapidly by learning the altered reward patterns. The types of landmark information I provided significantly influenced both the rate and persistence of learning. Hummingbirds learned more rapidly using edge landmarks than central landmarks. They also used colour information about reward quality embedded in both kinds of markers, although this was not a strong benefit to learning. In one experiment, hummingbirds learned both spatial memory tasks and spatial associations. They learned spatial associations more rapidly than spatial memory tasks, achieving a high rate of performance after a very short time interval. Although spatial memory tasks required a slightly longer learning period, the birds' performance was eventually comparable to that on spatial association tasks. The speed of forming spatial associations between cue and reward sites depended strongly on the distance between them, although hummingbirds eventually achieved comparable performance regardless of separation. Birds were more resistant to change on spatial memory tasks than spatial association tasks. Greater separations between cue and reward resulted in more reliance on spatial memory and greater persistence of these memories in the face of change. Time spent foraging on rewarding patterns affected the birds' persistence when the pattern changed. After longer experience of successfully using a pattern of feeders, birds persisted longer in formerly rewarding behaviours. Time spent using a pattern of feeders influenced spatial memory tasks much more than spatial association ones.

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