The effect of captivity on cognitive performance of the common shrew (Sorex araneus)
Ephemeral Resource Adaptations Research Group
What’s the project about? Animals in temperate climates have evolved various strategies to cope with seasonal changes. An example of this is Dehnel’s Phenomenon, observed in just a few small mammals including the common shrew (Sorex araneus). This phenomenon involves a seasonal reduction in body, skeletal and brain size between summer and winter, and regrowth from winter to spring. While this reversible reduction of energetically expensive tissues, such as the brain, results in reduced food demands during periods of scarcity, it does lead to cognitive compromises. This phenomenon has implications for the whole range of cognitive abilities animals exhibit, essential for their daily survival and interaction with their environments. In nature, wild animals are constantly challenged by their natural surroundings, and develop cognitive skills tailored to these environments. On the other hand, animals in captivity experience a more controlled environment, with regular food supply and fewer perceived threats. This stability, while beneficial in many ways, can lead to different cognitive outcomes. Surprisingly, although most scientific research on cognition is done with laboratory animals these captive effects are rarely assessed. We will use the common shrew as model species to compare cognitive performance between captive and wild individuals. This approach can offer valuable insights into the impact of environmental challenges on brain plasticity and cognition. During this (bachelor/master) project, you will help perform cognitive tests with frehsly caught common shrews at our institute in Möggingen. You will learn how to code videos for behavioural analyses, using different softwares. Subsequentially, you will compare differences in cognitive performance with captive shrews, using a pre-existing dataset.
Who can apply? The project is available to BSc and MSc students