Research

Generally, I am interested in the evolution of complex cognition, and identifying which factors have led to the presence of complex cognitive abilities in some species, but not others. I employ a strong ecological and comparative perspective on studies on animal cognition, and am particularly intrigued by social behaviour and cognition in the wild. Moreover, I am proficient at lab and field work.

Cache Protection Strategies in Social and Non-Social Species

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Food-storing (i.e. caching) animals rely on food they cache to survive when resources in the environment are low. However, caching animals must retrieve enough caches for this strategy to be evolutionary advantageous. Thus, caching individuals must not only remember the location of their caches but also limit the risk of losing their food caches by identifying potential thieves (i.e. pilferers) and displaying cache protection strategies. Corvids are a group of bird species known to use various cache protection strategies once they have identified an observer as a threat. In my study, I directly compared the cache protection strategies used by two highly cache-dependent corvid species: highly-social pinyon jays, and non-social Clark’s nutcrackers.

Inhibitory Control

Inhibitory control can be defined as the ability to restrict a prepotent response in favor of a more rewarding one. It is an essential component for other more complex cognitive abilities such as planning in the future and problem solving. Studying this basic ability as a proxy for more complex ones allows comparisons between different species. For this reason, tasks measuring inhibitory control, for instance the cylinder task, are increasingly used in comparative cognition.

  • Corvid Cognition

Clark’s nutcrackers are a corvid species known for their impressive memory and other complex cognitive abilities. We investigated whether they would inhibit their primary response to reach directly for food inside a transparent tube and instead go through the tube side openings, hence displaying inhibitory control. Results indicate that, despite being confronted to an unnatural stimulus (i.e., a transparent barrier), nutcrackers learned to solve the task. For a look at the results on inhibitory control in Clark’s nutcrackers, click here.

In addition, we looked at how individual variations of neophobia can influence the ability to inhibit in the tube task.

  • Canine Cognition

Adult dogs differ in their ability to exercise self-control. Our collaborative study focuses on determining which factors can affect this ability. In addition, as many different tasks are used to measure the amount of self-control exhibited by dogs, we want to assess the reliability of each task.