Hippocampal participation in navigational map learning in young homing pigeons is dependent on training experience

P Ioalè, A Gagliardo, V P Bingman
European Journal of Neuroscience 2000, 12 (2): 742-50
The homing pigeon navigational map is perhaps one of the most striking examples of a naturally occurring spatial representation of the environment used to guide navigation. In a previous study, it was found that hippocampal lesions thoroughly disrupt the ability of young homing pigeons held in an outdoor aviary to learn a navigational map. However, since that study an accumulation of anecdotal data has hinted that hippocampal-lesioned young pigeons allowed to fly during their first summer could learn a navigational map. In the present study, young control and hippocampal-lesioned homing pigeons were either held in an outdoor aviary or allowed to fly during the time of navigational map learning. At the end of their first summer, the birds were experimentally released to test for navigational map learning. Independent of training experience, control pigeons oriented homeward during the experimental releases demonstrating that they learned a navigational map. Surprisingly, while the aviary-held hippocampal-lesioned pigeons failed to learn a navigational map as reported previously, hippocampal-lesioned birds allowed flight experience learned a navigational map indistinguishable from the two control groups. A subsequent experiment revealed that the navigational map learned by the three groups was based on atmospheric odours. The results demonstrate that hippocampal participation in navigational map learning depends on the type of experience a young bird pigeon has, and presumably, the type of navigational map learned.

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