Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Species differences in egocentric navigation: the effect of burrowing ecology on a spatial cognitive trait in mice

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle


Open Access permissions



Jason N. Bruck, Noah A. Allen, Kelsey E. Brass, Brian A. Horn, Polly Campbell

School/Research organisations


Efficient navigation is a critical component of fitness for most animals. While most species use a combination of allocentric (external) and egocentric (internal) cues to navigate through their environment, subterranean environments present a unique challenge in that visually mediated allocentric cues are unavailable. The relationship between egocentric spatial cognition and species differences in ecology is surprisingly understudied. We used a maze-learning task to test for differences in egocentric navigation between two closely related species of mice, the eastern house mouse, Mus musculus musculus, and the mound-building mouse, Mus spicilegus. The two species are sympatric in Eastern Europe and overlap in summer habitat use but differ dramatically in winter space use: whereas house mice occupy anthropogenic structures, mound-building mice survive the winter underground in intricate burrow systems. Given species differences in burrowing ecology, we predicted that M. spicilegus would learn the maze significantly faster than M. m. musculus when tested in complete darkness, a condition that eliminated allocentric spatial information and served as a proxy for the subterranean environment. We found strong support for this prediction. In contrast, the two species performed equally well when different mice were tested in the same maze with lights on. This context-specific species difference in spatial cognition suggests that enhanced egocentric navigation in M. spicilegus is an adaptation to the burrow systems on which the overwinter survival of young mound-building mice depends. The results of this study highlight the importance of ecological adaptations to the evolution of cognitive traits.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date28 Mar 2017
StatePublished - May 2017

    Research areas

  • Learning, Memory, Mound building, Mus spicilegus, Route-based navigation, Spatial ecology

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. 3D-printed fish models for testing guppy mate choice

    Stewart, J., Moore, M. E., Forshee, J. L., Boyles, K., Harmon, M. G., Bruck, J. N. & French, D. P. 1 Jun 2017 (Accepted/In press) Tested Studies for Laboratory Teaching: Proceedings for the 39th Workshop/Conference of the Association for Biology Laboratory Education (ABLE), June 13-16, 2017. McMahon, K. (ed.). USA: Association for Biology Laboratory Education, Vol. 38, 13 p. 19

    Research output: ResearchConference contribution

  2. Decades-long social memory in bottlenose dolphins

    Bruck, J. N. 23 Oct 2013 In : Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 280, 1768

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  3. How habitat features shape ground squirrel (Urocitellus beldingi) navigation

    Bruck, J. N. & Mateo, J. M. May 2010 In : Journal of comparative psychology (Washington, D.C. : 1983). 124, 2, p. 176-86 11 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

Related by journal

  1. Presence of an audience and consistent interindividual differences affect archerfish shooting behaviour

    Jones, N. A. R., Webster, M., Templeton, C. N., Schuster, S. & Rendell, L. 15 Jun 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 141, p. 95-103 9 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  2. Heterospecific shoaling in an invasive poeciliid: shared history does not affect shoal cohesion

    Ali, J. R., Deacon, A. E., Mahabir, K., Ramnarine, I. W. & Magurran, A. E. Apr 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 138, p. 1-8 8 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  3. Memory in wild mountain chickadees from different elevations: comparing first year birds with older survivors

    Tello Ramos, M. C., Pitera, C. L., Pitera, A. M., Kozlovsky, D. Y., Bridge, E. S. & Pravosudov, V. V. Mar 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 137, p. 149-160 11 p., 6

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  4. Wild hummingbirds require a consistent view of landmarks to pinpoint a goal location

    Pritchard, D. J., Hurly, T. A. & Healy, S. D. Mar 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 137, p. 83-94 12 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  5. Field experiments with wild primates reveal no consistent dominance-based bias in social learning

    Botting, J., Whiten, A., Grampp, M. & van de Waal, E. Feb 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 136, p. 1-12 12 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

Related by journal

  1. Animal Behaviour (Journal)

    Webster, M. M. (Editor)
    1 Jan 201731 Dec 2019

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

  2. Animal Behaviour (Journal)

    Healy, S. D. (Editor)
    1 Jun 201631 May 2020

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

  3. Animal Behaviour (Journal)

    Alfredo Fernandez Ojanguren (Member of editorial board)
    15 May 201312 Feb 2015

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPeer review of manuscripts

  4. Animal Behaviour (Journal)

    Thomas Bugnyar (Editor)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

  5. Animal Behaviour (Journal)

    Rachel Louise Kendal (Editor)
    2007 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

ID: 249488896