I am an M.Sc. Thesis student in Dr. Georgia Mason’s Animal Behaviour and Welfare lab and a Neuroscience Collaborative student. I completed my H.B.Sc. in Psychology Brain and Cognition with a minor in Neuroscience here at the University of Guelph. I have always loved animals and knew I wanted to study at Guelph since my childhood when an elementary teacher told me it was the “animal school”. Thanks to the Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship in Science and Technology (QEII-GSST) Program I am now living my dream!
My research is aimed at understanding the neurobiological correlates of cage-induced stereotypic behaviours. Stereotypic behaviours (repetitive, apparently functionless movements like pacing, head-bobbing and backflipping) are common in captive zoo, farm, and laboratory animals. Caused by barren environments, these behaviours are thought to indicate poor welfare. It is widely considered that such behaviours are a product of abnormal central nervous system development and functioning, but the precise nature of this is unknown. Using laboratory mice, I will be examining the relationship between barren (standard laboratory housing conditions) versus enriched housing on stereotypic behaviour severity/type. I will also examine neuronal activity in the basal ganglia which is the brain’s “action selection system” and the prefrontal cortex that exerts top-down control over this system,
I suspect that rearing in barren environments weakens prefrontal control of basal ganglia functioning thus disrupting behavioural flexibility (e.g. activation of appropriate and deactivation of inappropriate behaviours). If I find that standard housing conditions cause neurological pathology, then my research will have practical implications for scientists who study "normal" behaviour and brain function (e.g. standard housed mice would not be an appropriate model) and ethical implications for laboratory mice (e.g. promoting advocacy for better housing conditions). I hope to carry this research forward into my Ph.D.