INVASIVE_ARMS_RACE
Others
Project duration: 
Sep 2024 to Aug 2026

Introduction

Cognition is often assumed to be beneficial, as it allows individuals to adjust to all kind of environmental challenges. However, which exact environmental challenges drive the evolution of animal cognition remains an open question. Predation is often raised as an important driver of cognitive evolution, because animals that can improve their antipredator behaviour through learning may survive better, especially in dangerous environments. How environmental predation risk influences prey cognition is, however, only scarcely studied, with conflicting results.

Here, I plan to make use of an unique opportunity to investigate the role of predation in cognitive evolution. I will examine how changes in predation pressure, caused by an invasion of alien snakes into the island of Ibiza, affect the cognition of endemic lizards. I will test how predation risk affects cognitive variation among and within populations of prey, and specifically the trade-off between learning speed versus accuracy (i.e. cognitive style), an understudied aspect of cognition in this context. Another gap in our knowledge is how exactly cognitive abilities help individuals to avoid being predated, and hence as a second goal I will test whether individual's cognitive performance and style relate to their ability to recognize and respond to predators. Finally, one aspect that has rarely been taken into consideration in the past, is how the cognitive abilities of the predator itself affect prey cognition and vice versa. As a final goal, I will test the exciting unexplored hypothesis of a cognitive arms race between predator and prey. In addition, this project will also integrate neuroscience with cognitive ecology, and delve deeper into the genetic and neural mechanisms underlying cognitive changes in prey and predator.

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