An evolutionary perspective on caching by corvids

  • De Kort S
  • Clayton N
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A principal finding in the food-caching literature is that species differences in hoarding propensity are positively correlated with species differences in degree of adaptations to caching behaviour, such as performance on spatial memory tasks and hippocampal volume. However, there are examples that do not fit this pattern. We argue that these examples can be better understood by considering the phylogenetic relatedness between species. We reconstruct the ancestral state for caching behaviour in corvids and assess when transitions in caching behaviour occurred within the corvid phylogeny. Our analysis shows that the common ancestor of all corvids was a moderate cacher. This result suggests that corvids followed a bi-directional evolutionary trajectory in which caching was secondarily lost twice and there were at least two independent transitions from moderate to specialized caching. The independent evolution of specialized cachers in the two groups must, therefore, be a case of convergent evolution. This is exemplified by the fact that specialized cachers show structurally different adaptations serving the same function to intense caching, such as different pouches to transport food. Finally, we argue that convergent evolution may have led to adaptations in memory and hippocampus that serve the same function but differ in design, and that these different adaptations may explain the examples that do not fit the pattern predicted by the adaptive specialization hypothesis.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Adaptive specialization
  • Corvid
  • Food hoarding
  • Hippocampus
  • Phylogeny
  • Spatial memory

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  • Selvino R. De Kort

  • Nicola S. Clayton

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