Most animals confine their activities to a discrete home range, long assumed to reflect the fitness benefits of obtaining spatial knowledge about the landscape. However, few empirical studies have linked spatial memory to home range development or determined how selection operates on spatial memory via the latter’s role in mediating space use. We assayed the cognitive ability of juvenile pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) reared under identical conditions before releasing them into the wild. Then, we used high-throughput tracking to record their movements as they developed their home ranges, and determined the location, timing and cause of mortality events. Individuals with greater spatial reference memory developed larger home ranges. Mortality risk from predators was highest at the periphery of an individual’s home range in areas where they had less experience and opportunity to obtain spatial information. Predation risk was lower in individuals with greater spatial memory and larger core home ranges, suggesting selection may operate on spatial memory by increasing the ability to learn about predation risk across the landscape. Our results reveal that spatial memory, determined from abstract cognitive assays, shapes home range development and variation, and suggests predation risk selects for spatial memory via experience-dependent spatial variation in mortality.
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We thank Rothamsted Research North Wyke for accommodating the rearing and release of the pheasants, and various landowners in Devon for hosting our tracking equipment. We also thank the Minerva Foundation and the Minerva Center for movement ecology for their persistence in supporting and developing ATLAS. Additionally, we thank K. Griffin and A. Morris for their help with data collection and animal husbandry, and F. Moultrie for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript. We also thank N. Griffiths of Sporting Shots Ltd for supplying the pheasants for the carcass tracking experiment. This work was funded by an European Research Council Consolidator award no. 616474 to J.R.M.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Density plot showing the proportion of the surviving bird’s home range that overlaps with the high-risk region of the landscape. The vertical dashed blue line indicates the mean proportion of home range overlaps with the real high-risk region.
Histogram comparison of distribution of home range isopleths where deaths occur for the birds that were killed (right plot) compared to all non-predated neighbour who’s 100% minimum convex polygon overlapped with the death location (left plot).
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Heathcote, R.J.P., Whiteside, M.A., Beardsworth, C.E. et al. Spatial memory predicts home range size and predation risk in pheasants. Nat Ecol Evol (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-022-01950-5