Harsh environmental conditions may produce strong selection pressure on traits, such as memory, that may enhance fitness. Enhanced memory may be crucial for survival in animals that use memory to find food and, thus, particularly important in environments where food sources may be unpredictable. For example, animals that cache and later retrieve their food may exhibit enhanced spatial memory in harsh environments compared with those in mild environments. One way that selection may enhance memory is via the hippocampus, a brain region involved in spatial memory. In a previous study, we established a positive relationship between environmental severity and hippocampal morphology in food-caching black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). Here, we expanded upon this previous work to investigate the relationship between environmental harshness and neurogenesis, a process that may support hippocampal cytoarchitecture. We report a significant and positive relationship between the degree of environmental harshness across several populations over a large geographic area and (1) the total number of immature hippocampal neurons, (2) the number of immature neurons relative to the hippocampal volume, and (3) the number of immature neurons relative to the total number of hippocampal neurons. Our results suggest that hippocampal neurogenesis may play an important role in environments where increased reliance on memory for cache recovery is critical.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience