Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Animal cognition in a human-dominated world: Dr Andrea Griffin and co-editors from the University of Vienna bring to fruition the first special edition of the journal Animal Cognition.

A team of three co-editors led by Dr Andrea Griffin from the UoN School of Psychology has just completed the first special edition of the journal Animal Cognition on the topical issue of animal cognition in a human-dominated world. The special issue features 11 new studies showcasing new research findings and ideas within the field of animal cognition & Human induced fast environmental change (HIREC), introduced by an editorial piece by Griffin and her co-editors highlighting the current state of the field. Although all the papers are now available online, the issue will receive an ‘official’ launch in January 2017 by the publisher Springer.

The special issue arose as a consequence a symposium entitled Human impact: Behavioural and cognitive responses to human-induced environmental change co-organised by a team of six national and international researchers including Griffin at the 2015 International Ethology Conference (IEC), one of the biggest scientific gatherings of behavioural biologists worldwide.

The special issue pays tribute to current changes in the field of animal cognition. Traditionally focused on studying general mechanisms in a handful of model lab species, the field is currently mutating to one examining how a diverse range of animal species use their mental capacities in real-life contexts. As questions about how animals perceive, process, store and use information they extract from their environment begin to capture the fascination of biologists, so too is the growing desire to study cognition in the context of fast environmental change. Most telling of this growing trend is the observation that the symposium organised by Griffin and her colleagues on behavioural and cognitive responses to human-induced environmental change was one of the two largest 2-15-IEC symposiums alongside another dedicated to Avian Cognition.

As human populations expand and spread, they change surrounding landscapes both near and far. Whereas some animals go extinct, unable to adjust to new challenges, others thrive in these new ecosystems, taking advantage of myriad novel, yet unoccupied ecological, opportunities. Whether animals adapt or disappear is strongly influenced by their mental machinery, argues Griffin et al. in their editorial piece, urging biologists versed in animal cognition to play a prominent role in future wildlife management research.

The special issue describes how species from butterflies, amphibians, fish, to birds, used their cognitive abilities to adjust to environmental change, including research undertaken in the School of Psychology on the learning abilities of the introduced common myna. The issue figures research on how cognition and brain development can be affected by pollution and temperature rise, but also how researchers can harness animals’ cognitive abilities to help them adjust.

Griffin and her co-editors predict a rich future of interaction between fundamental research in cognition and applied HIREC-related research. The 11 featured articles will provide a catalyst for further advancement in the field of cognition and HIREC in the years to come.