Comparative cognition and individual differences
We are interested in investigating physical and social cognitive abilities across species. What cognitive traits have evolved to help a particular species fit within its own environmental niche? Have certain cognitive traits evolved convergently in a number of different species facing similar evolutionary pressures? Some of our work is currently focused on investigating individual differences in behavior and cognition within species (e.g., personality in Asian elephants) and the differences in how individuals approach and solve problems. Understanding this variation at an individual level can help us understand how species have evolved to adapt to rapid environmental change. We are also interested in understanding expressions of behavioral flexibility in animals; in other words, can animals adjust their behavior to solve novel problems?
Animal sensory perspectives
We want to understand how different species use their sensory abilities (see, hear, smell, and touch) to collect information and make decisions in their environments. Unlike humans and other primates, elephants and pangolins may not rely as much on vision as they do on olfaction when making decisions about finding food or navigating environmental obstacles. The more we can learn about an animal’s sensory perspective, the better we can assess their physical and social decision-making, and thus the more species-specific and fair our experiments to understand their cognition will be.
Behavior and cognition for conservation’s sake
We are interested in the application of animal behavior and cognition research to wildlife conservation in practice. Human-wildlife conflict around the world is increasing due to a number of human-driven factors, but understanding the animal’s perspective in the conflict has important implications for developing mitigation strategies that take all species’ needs into account.
Our current research projects are happening at many different locations in the US and internationally, and are focused on a number of mammalian species. Currently, we have active research projects on elephant cognition in the U.S., Thailand and Myanmar, pangolins in Thailand, and pandas in China.