Three-dimensional space: locomotory style explains memory differences in rats and hummingbirds

Ileana Nuri Flores Abreu, T. Andrew Hurly, James A. Ainge, Susan D. Healy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


While most animals live in a three-dimensional world, they move through it to different extents depending on their mode of locomotion: terrestrial animals move vertically less than do swimming and flying animals. As nearly everything we know about how animals learn and remember locations in space comes from two-dimensional experiments in the horizontal plane, here we determined whether the use of three-dimensional space by a terrestrial and a flying animal was correlated with memory for a rewarded location. In the cubic mazes in which we trained and tested rats and hummingbirds, rats moved more vertically than horizontally, whereas hummingbirds moved equally in the three dimensions. Consistent with their movement preferences, rats were more accurate in relocating the horizontal component of a rewarded location than they were in the vertical component. Hummingbirds, however, were more accurate in the vertical dimension than they were in the horizontal, a result that cannot be explained by their use of space. Either as a result of evolution or ontogeny, it appears that birds and rats prioritize horizontal versus vertical components differently when they remember three-dimensional space.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20140301
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1784
Early online date16 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2014


  • Spatial cognition
  • Three-dimensional navigation
  • Hummingbirds
  • Rats
  • Locomotory style
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Selasphorus rufus
  • Grid cells
  • Representation
  • Information
  • Location
  • Hamsters
  • Field
  • Maze
  • Bats


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