The influence of navigational experience of homing pigeons for orientation in a two-dimensional environment — ASN Events

The influence of navigational experience of homing pigeons for orientation in a two-dimensional environment (#370)

Julia Mehlhorn 1 , Gerd Rehkämper 1
  1. University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, DEUTSCHLAND, Germany

Homing pigeons are known for their excellent homing abilities and their brain seems to be functionally adapted to homing with e.g. larger hippocampi. Furthermore it is known that this plasticity is correlated with individual life history. Pigeons with navigational experience show a larger hippocampus and, additionally, a more lateralised brain than pigeons without navigational experience. Thus, it is hypothesized, that experience has as well an influence on orientation ability.

            We examined two groups of pigeons (11 with and 17 without navigational experience) in a standard operant chamber with a touch screen monitor showing a 2-D schematic of a rectangular environment (as 'geometric' information) and one uniquely shaped and coloured feature in each corner (as 'landmark' information). Pigeons were trained first for pecking on one of these features and than we examined the ability to encode geometric and featural information in 5 tests by modifying the rectangular environment, e.g. by omitting one or more features. All tests were done under binocular and monocular viewing to test hemispheric dominance, for analysis the number of picks was counted.   

            Results show that generally both groups orientate on the basis of 'landmarks' as well as on the geometry of environment, but featural (landmark) information were preferred. Pigeons with navigational experience show a significant better performance in absolving the 'geometry test' (all 'landmarks' removed; p=0.026). In two tests ('landmark close&far' and 'landmark far') whereas two respectively one 'landmark' was removed significant differences between monocular and binocular viewing within but not between the two groups were detected.

            Our data suggests that orientation ability is of course genetically determined but in fact influenced by experience. Besides, it seems to be that encoding geometric and landmark information is generally displayed in both hemispheres because monocular or binocular viewing seems to have no strong influence.