Animal learning and memory: an integration of cognition and ecology

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Abstract

A wonderfully lucid framework for the ways to understand animal behaviour is that represented by the four 'whys' proposed by Tinbergen (1963). For much of the past three decades, however, these four avenues have been pursued more or less in parallel. Functional questions, for example, have been addressed by behavioural ecologists, mechanistic questions by psychologists and ethologists, ontogenetic questions by developmental biologists and neuroscientists and phyloggenetic questions by evolutionary biologists. More recently, the value of integration between these differing views has become apparent. In this brief re review, we concentrate especially on current attempts to integrate mechanistic and functional approaches.

Most of our understanding of learning and memory in animals comes from the psychological literature, which Lends to use only rats or pigeons, and more occasionally primates, as subjects. The underlying psychological assumption is of general processes that are similar across species and contexts rather than a range of specific abilities. However, this does not seem to be entirely true as several learned behaviours have been described that are specific to particular species or contexts. The first conspicuous exception to the generalist assumption was the demonstration of long delay taste aversion lea-ming in rats (Garcia et al., 1955), in which it was shown that a stimulus need not be temporally contiguous with a response for the animal to make an association between food and illness. Subsequently, a number of other examples, such as imprinting and song learning in birds (e.g., Bolhuis and Honey, 1998; Catchpole and Slater, 1995; Horn, 1998), have been thoroughly researched. Even in these cases, however, it has been typical for only a few species to be studied (domestic chicks provide the 'model' imprinting species and canaries and zebra finches the song learning 'models'). As a result, a great deal is understood about the neural underpinnings and development of the behaviour, but substantially less is understood about interspecific variation and whether variation in behaviour is correlated with variation in neural processing (see review by Tramontin and Brenowitz, 2000 but see ten Cate and Vos, 1999).

Original languageEnglish
Pages321-327
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Keywords

  • cognitive ecology
  • spatial learning and memory
  • adaptive specialisation
  • BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES
  • HUMMINGBIRDS SELASPHORUS-RUFUS
  • OBSERVATIONAL SPATIAL MEMORY
  • JAYS APHELOCOMA-COERULESCENS
  • FOOD-STORING BIRDS
  • MARSH TITS
  • RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS
  • MEADOW VOLES
  • HIPPOCAMPAL VOLUME
  • NONSTORING BIRDS

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