1) Animal cognition and its neural correlates
We want to understand how variation in brain structure and size influences organismic function, and identify the factors that drive evolution and plasticity of the nervous system. To this aim, we study variation in structure and size of vertebrate brains, the proximate mechanisms generating this variation, and the functional consequences of this variation. Investigations focus on amphibians and fishes in both laboratory and field settings. Our integrative lab-based approach involves behavioural assays, anatomy and histology work, and molecular methods. Field sampling in collaboration with ecologists allows to combine our lab efforts with quantitative ecological methods to explore the influence of ecology and environmental factors on the brain, a discipline sometimes referred to as ‘neuroecology’. Such investigations can inform us of the cognitive abilities needed by wild animals to thrive in their natural environment.
Using a highly collaborative approach, we try to develop novel indicators of performance in aquatic wildlife for improved environmental monitoring of watersheds. Current work on this topic focuses on indicators of ecological performance and chronic stress in wild fish (e.g. organ sizes, enzyme assays, gene expression, hormone content of fish scales) and neurotoxicology.