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    Mental Time-Travel in Birds

    NewsBird NewsThursday 27 October 2011
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    Mental time-travel consists of two elements: the ability to remember past events and the ability to anticipate and plan for future events. It has traditionally been considered a quality unique to humans. However, ever since Nicola Clayton of the University of Cambridge discovered that scrub jays (a species of large-brained crow) can remember the past and plan for the future, there have been a suite of studies showing evidence of this ability in other species as well. We now know that corvids (birds in the crow family), some primates, and possibly rats have all shown the ability to remember the past and plan for the future.
     
    Some tropical birds collect their prey at army ant raids, where massive swarms of ants sweep through the forest and drive out insects. The behaviour of interest is called bivouac checking; it allows these birds to track the cyclical raid activity of army ant colonies.
     
    The new findings published October 14 in the journal Behavioural Ecology, suggest that bivouac checking allows birds to keep track of multiple army ant colonies, keeping account of which colonies are in periods of high-raiding activity while avoiding colonies with low-raiding activity.
     
    Until recently, it has been difficult to find model systems for studying mental time travel in an ecologically relevant way. "The fact that we might have happened on a whole new system for exploring these capacities is quite exciting," added Corina Logan one of the authors of the study of the University of Cambridge.
     

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