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The evolution of hippocampus volume and brain size in relation to food hoarding in birds


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Food-hoarding birds frequently use spatial memory to relocate their caches, thus they may evolve a larger hippocampus in their brain than non-hoarder species. However, previous studies testing for such interspecific relationships provided conflicting results. In addition, food hoarding may be a cognitively complex task involving elaboration of a variety of brain regions, even outside of the hippocampus. Hence, specialization to food hoarding may also result in the enlargement of the overall brain. In a phylogenetic analysis of distantly related birds, we studied the interspecific association between food hoarding and the size of different brain regions, each reflecting different resolutions. After adjusting for allometric effects, the relative volume of the hippocampus and the relative size of the entire brain were each positively related to the degree of food-hoarding specialization, even after controlling for migration and brood parasitism. We also found some significant evidence for the relative volume of the telencephalon being associated with food hoarding, but this relationship was dependent on the approach we used. Hence, neural adaptation to food hoarding may favour the evolution of different brain structures.