Spatial memory and adaptive specialization of the hippocampus

Trends Neurosci. 1992 Aug;15(8):298-303. doi: 10.1016/0166-2236(92)90080-r.


The hippocampus plays an important role in spatial memory and spatial cognition in birds and mammals. Natural selection, sexual selection and artificial selection have resulted in an increase in the size of the hippocampus in a remarkably diverse group of animals that rely on spatial abilities to solve ecologically important problems. Food-storing birds remember the locations of large numbers of scattered caches. Polygynous male voles traverse large home ranges in search of mates. Kangaroo rats both cache food and exhibit a sex difference in home range size. In all of these species, an increase in the size of the hippocampus is associated with superior spatial ability. Artificial selection for homing ability has produced a comparable increase in the size of the hippocampus in homing pigeons, compared with other strains of domestic pigeon. Despite differences among these animals in their histories of selection and the genetic backgrounds on which selection has acted, there is a common relationship between relative hippocampal size and spatial ability.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Consummatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Homing Behavior
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Organ Size
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Rodentia / physiology
  • Rodentia / psychology*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Spatial Behavior*