Fitness consequences of individual variation in spatial memory in wild mountain chickadees at high and low elevations in Sierra Nevada
Currently, the major, NSF-funded, project in the lab is focused on investigating potential role of natural selection in shaping elevation related differences in spatial memory and the hippocampus in mountain chickadees.


Every Fall, we attempt to trap and band as many chickadees as possible with unique combination of color bands and a PIT-tag (RFID) for both visual identification and for automated identification at our RFID-equipped feeders. In 2014 and 2015, we have banded around 500 mountain chickdees.
Memory testing
Once we finished banding, we start testing of spatial memory in PIT-tagged birds using 4 arrays containing 8 RFID-equipped feeders each (2 arrays at low (ca. 6500 feet) elevation and 2 arrays at high  (ca. 8200 feet) elevation. Each bird is programmed to recieve food only at a single feeder within the array, but each feeder records every visit so we can see how many 'wrong' feeders a bird visits prior to visiting the correct, rewarding feeder.

We have tested ca. 80 chickadees in winter 2013/2014 and ca. 160 chickadees in winter 2015/2016.


We monitor breeding at both low and high elevations. We have 250+ nextboxes and in 2015, we had ca. 100 active nests. We band all nestlings and we also band with PIT-tags all parents that were not banded before.
We estimate chickadee survival throught the year using bird indetification at all stages from fall trapping, through the winter and spring by using RFID feeders and during the summer by identifying all parents.
Memory, fitness and natural selection
Uisng all of this information, we aim to test whether individuals with better memory (1) have a higher chance of survival and (2) have higher reproductive success.