Overwinter temperature has no effect on problem solving abilities or responses to novelty in Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus)

Behav Processes. 2019 May:162:72-78. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2019.01.012. Epub 2019 Jan 31.


Birds overwintering at northern latitudes face challenging environments in which refined cognitive and behavioural responses to environmental stimuli could be a benefit. Populations of the same species from different latitudes have been shown to differ in their cognitive and behavioural responses, and these differences have been attributed to local adaptation. However, individuals overwintering at intermediate latitudes experience great breadth and variation in environmental conditions, and thus it is reasonable that these individuals would alter their responses based on current conditions. To determine within-species responses to environmental conditions we sampled birds from a single population at an intermediate latitude and assessed their problem solving abilities and their responses to novelty. We held birds overwinter in one of three experimental temperature regimes and assessed problem solving abilities and responses to novel stimuli in the spring. We found that overwinter temperature had no effect on problem solving ability. We also show that overwinter temperature had no effect on an individual's response to novelty. These findings strengthen the argument that differences in these behaviours seen at the population level are in fact driven by local adaptation, and that current environmental condition may have limited effects on these behaviours.

Keywords: Black-capped Chickadee; Environmental harshness; Novelty; Problem solving; Winter temperature.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Exploratory Behavior*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Problem Solving*
  • Seasons*
  • Songbirds*