Poor environmental conditions experienced during early development can have negative long-term consequences on fitness. Animals can compensate for negative developmental effects through phenotypic plasticity by diverting resources from non-vital to vital traits such as spatial memory to enhance foraging efficiency. We tested in young feral pigeons (Columba livia) how diets of different nutritional value during development affect the capacity to retrieve food hidden in a spatially complex environment, a process we refer to as ‘spatial memory’. Parents were fed with either high- or low-quality food from egg laying until young fledged, after which all young pigeons received the same high-quality diet until memory performance was tested at 6 months of age. The pigeons were trained to learn a food location out of 18 possible locations in one session, and then their memory of this location was tested 24 h later. Birds reared with the low-quality diet made fewer errors in the memory test. These results demonstrate that food quality during development has long-lasting effects on memory, with a moderate nutritional deficit improving spatial memory performance in a foraging context. It might be that under poor feeding conditions resources are redirected from non-vital to vital traits, or pigeons raised with low-quality food might be better in using environmental cues such as the position of the sun to find where food was hidden.
A.R., C.M.-H., J.G., M.F.S. and N.C.R. designed the study. L.J. and M.F.S. conducted the experiments. A.R. and M.F.S. performed the statistical analyses. A.R., M.F.S. and N.C.R. wrote the paper. A.R., J.G. and N.C.R. contributed equally. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
This research was funded by the Max Planck Society (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (31003A_120517 to A.R.).
Supplementary information available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/lookup/doi/10.1242/jeb.152454.supplemental
- Received October 30, 2016.
- Accepted November 21, 2016.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd