Speaker: Dr Catarina Vila Pouca, Stockholm University
The question of why and how cognitive abilities vary so much between and within species is one that has puzzled us since Darwin’s time.
In this talk, I will present my research on two potential drivers of cognitive variation.
Demands from the environment, such as finding food or avoiding predators, can play an important role in brain and cognitive variation.
Predation pressure is one of the strongest ecological pressures that animals face, and it is intuitive to predict that ‘less clever’ individuals may be easier to prey upon; therefore, predation may play a crucial role in driving cognitive variation within and across species.
Using the Trinidadian guppy, an established model species in behaviour and cognition research, we are investigating how predation risk impacts developmental trajectories in terms of brain, behaviour, and cognition, and if predators select for specific brain/cognitive traits in populations of prey.
In addition to ecological pressures, some genetic processes can also act as sources of diversification.
Hybridisation is one such agent of diversity, known for example to have driven the spectacular radiations of Galapagos finches and African cichlids.
While hybridisation has long been recognised to fuel genetic and morphological variation, we have only recently considered its potential role in shaping cognitive traits.
My research aims to tackle this question by investigating how hybridisation affects hybrid learning and memory; and if hybridisation can produce novel cognitive phenotypes, outside the range of traits observed in the parental species.
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