Throughout my career, I have used mammalian carnivores as a model system to test leading hypotheses to explain the evolution of intelligence and to elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms underlying key cognitive abilities. My current research program is focused on studying the behavior, ecology, and cognition of urban carnivores to understand how cognition is facilitating the adaptation of these species to urban environments. My research group is examining how performance on cognitive tasks is linked to diet, health, social behavior, and space use patterns of urban mesocarnivores such as raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. We are also collaborating with neuroscientists to investigate the connection between cognitive performance and neurobiological characteristics such as brain size and neuronal density in key areas of the brain.
We are also examining how individual variation in performance on cognitive tasks is related to animal personality, and how animals learn from each other and coordinate their behavior to solve complex challenges. We have conducted this research with Asian elephants and zebra finches.
In addition to my basic research investigating animal cognition and behavior, I am applying my research on urban carnivores to reduce human-wildlife conflict by clarifying how knowledge of animal cognition can be used to design more effective conflict-mitigation strategies. I am also incorporating modern technological advances into studies of wildlife to aid conservation and to propel field studies of wildlife forward.
Overall, my research program aims to answer fundamental questions about animal cognition and behavior while also applying my findings to improve outcomes for wildlife.