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The Economy of Winter: Phenotypic Plasticity in Behavior and Brain Structure

Lucia F. Jacobs
Biological Bulletin
Vol. 191, No. 1 (Aug., 1996), pp. 92-100
DOI: 10.2307/1543068
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1543068
Page Count: 9
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The Economy of Winter: Phenotypic Plasticity in Behavior and Brain Structure
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Abstract

Mobile animals must learn the spatial distributions of resources. The cost of foraging increases dramatically for temperate-zone animals during the winter. Two strategies may be used to balance the energetic budget: reducing costs of foraging and reducing need to forage. Both strategies are correlated with changes in brain structure, specifically in the hippocampus, a forebrain structure used by birds and mammals to map spatial distributions of resources. Small mammals that reduce their need to forage, through hibernation or reduction in body size, show a specific reduction in the structure and size of the hippocampus. The costs of foraging can be also decreased by migration to better foraging conditions or by food-storing, both of which decrease the temporal heterogeneity of food resources. Both of these latter strategies are associated with increased hippocampal structure; for food-storing birds, this increase is a seasonal phenomenon. Thus not only behavior, but also learning ability and even brain structures in adult animals, may be phenotypically plastic in response to the changing demands of the environment.

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