Cecilia Baldoni

PhD Student
Department of Migration
Research Group of Ephemeral Resource Adaptations

Main Focus

Organisms living in temperate climate must deal with seasonal changes in their environment, affecting food availability, plant cover and predation risk. Variable environments promote the expression of cognitive abilities such as exploration, memory and learning, resulting in larger and more complex brains. Moreover, animals have evolved a wide range of strategies (e.g. food caching, migration, torpor, hibernation) to cope with unfavourable seasons, where food scarcity and low temperature can threaten their survival.

The common shrew, Sorex araneus, defies all rules. It does not migrate, and is unable to hibernate or use torpor, and due to the highest known mammalian metabolism has extremely fast fat turnover year-round. Instead, in autumn, this small mammal shrinks its skull, bones and major organs (including the brain) up to 20%, and subsequentially regrows them up to 16% in spring. While this helps them to deal with a decreased resource availability in winter the changes, especially in brain size, are likely to cause compromise.

During my PhD, I will focus on the effects a programmed decrease in brain size can have on cognitive abilities. With repeated in vivo MRI imaging, I will trace changes in size in single brain regions (e.g. neocortex, hippocampus, olfactory bulb) of individual shrews and link them to their performance in cognitive tests (e.g. spatial navigation, odour discrimination, serial learning).

Curriculum Vitae

  • since August 2020: Doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior

  • December 2018 – May 2019: Research Assistant at the Comparative Cognition Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

  • August 2018/2019 – September 2018/2019: Field technician for the Bat Monitoring Project, MUSE (Museum of Science), Trento, Italy

  • October 2015 – December 2017: MSc “Science and Management of Nature, University of Bologna, Italy.
    Thesis: “The role of personality and neighbour familiarity in the nest defence of great tit (Parus major)” (Evolutionary Ecology Research Group; Antwerp, Belgium)

  • October 2011 – February 2015: BSc “Natural Science”, University of Milano, Italy.
    Thesis: “Migratory behaviour and ptilochronology in a trans-Saharan migratory species: the barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)”.

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