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Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies by scrub jays

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 21 March 2002


Social life has costs associated with competition for resources such as food1. Food storing may reduce this competition as the food can be collected quickly and hidden elsewhere2,3,4; however, it is a risky strategy because caches can be pilfered by others5,6,7,8,9. Scrub jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) remember ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ they cached10,11,12,13. Like other corvids6,7,8,9,14, they remember where conspecifics have cached, pilfering them when given the opportunity, but may also adjust their own caching strategies to minimize potential pilfering. To test this, jays were allowed to cache either in private (when the other bird's view was obscured) or while a conspecific was watching, and then recover their caches in private. Here we show that jays with prior experience of pilfering another bird's caches subsequently re-cached food in new cache sites during recovery trials, but only when they had been observed caching. Jays without pilfering experience did not, even though they had observed other jays caching. Our results suggest that jays relate information about their previous experience as a pilferer to the possibility of future stealing by another bird, and modify their caching strategy accordingly.

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Figure 1: Mean (+ s.e.m.) number of worms re-cached by the three groups.

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This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging and Whitehall foundation grants to N.S.C. N.J.E was funded by a Medical Research Council programme grant to E. B. Keverne. We thank S. Hettige, D. Jennings and V. R. Metcalf for help in running the experiments. We also thank the University of California, Davis, for allowing us to conduct the first trials there and for providing the necessary facilities. We thank S. Baron-Cohen, E. B. Keverne, K. N. Laland, D. I. Perrett and C. J. Saldanha for comments on the manuscript. We are especially grateful to T. J. Bussey, A. Dickinson and N. J. Mackintosh for discussion and comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to N. S. Clayton.

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Emery, N., Clayton, N. Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies by scrub jays. Nature 414, 443–446 (2001).

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