Project Overview

Molecular mapping of hippocampal subdivisions in food caching songbirds

Faculty Sponsor

Wan-chun Liu (


Psychological and Brain Sciences


This proposed study is aimed to investigate the gene expression pattern of hippocampus in songbirds, in order to better understand the neural and molecular basis of spatial or episodic learning/ memory and how environmental changes (climate change) may influence the neuroanatomical changes in wild birds. We will use one of the most common and local residential songbirds in central New York, the black-capped chickadees, for this study. Chickadees are well known for their extraordinary spatial and episodic learning, which allows chickadees to cache thousands of seeds in the fall, memorize the cache sites for later retrieval during the severe snowy winter. And this remarkable long-term spatial memory in chickadees is associated with a specialized and enlarged hippocampus, compared to that of non-caching songbirds. However, it remains largely unknown whether or not chickadees or other songbirds have similar anatomical sub-regions of hippocampus comparable to those of mammalian hippocampus, as each sub-division of mammalian hippocampus has a specialized function for different forms of learning and memory.
In this proposed study, we aim to (1) clone several mammalian hippocampal subdivision-specific gene markers and test whether or not these markers are expressed in different regions of the avian hippocampus; (2) test whether the extrordinary spatial learning and memory in food caching chickadees is associated with a specialized subdivision of hippocampus, comared with other non-caching songbirds; (3) develop a behavioral paradigm to quantitatively measure the spatial learning ability of food caching and non-caching species.  

Student Qualifications

basic knowledge and interest in molecular biology, neuroscience, and animal behavior.

Number of Student Researchers

3 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/03/2021 and close on 03/22/2021

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (