My research interests focus on animal cognition and behaviour. I am fascinated by how animals learn, individually and socially, and how the acquired information can help them to cope with the challenges of everyday life. In particular, I am interested in cognitive flexibility and executive function. Recently my research focus has broadened towards cognitive ecology including questions such as how sociality influences learning ability, how the sexes learn in different context and how a species ecology shapes its cognitive ability. I am most excited about the comparative approach to find out how species differ in their cognition and how cognitive abilities have evolved in different taxa. I am also interested in how we can use both behaviour and cognitive ability to develop and improve animal welfare and conservation measures.
Journey - From Austria to Australia
I started my scientific education at the Karl Franzens University in Graz, Styria (Austria) where I received my Bachelors degree in Ethology. My undergraduate research focused on thermoregulation in ants analysing temperature gradients of anthills and ant trails. During my undergraduate Degree, I had the opportunity to work with many different species including honey bees, Japanese macaques and electric fish among others.
My interests in behaviour and cognition lead me to leave Graz behind and move to Vienna, where I finished my masters degree in 2013 studying cognition in Goffin's cockatoos. Originally I wanted to study bioacoustics and acoustical communication in frogs, however, somehow I ended up studying cognition instead.
My first study looked into Piagetian object permanence utilising Piagets original six stage methodology. With a magnetic plate, we hid a piece of cashew under one of three cups. In later stages these cups changed position, which made paying attention crucial to finding the reward.
My masters-thesis focused on the influence of the social relationship between an observer and a demonstrator during a none food-rewarded object choice task. Subjects watched a demonstrator choose one of four objects. Afterwards, without the demonstrator present, the subject was allowed to choose one object itself.
Attention in animal has been a theme during my masters research. In February 2016 I started my PhD at Macquarie University in Sydney, NSW. My research shifted a little bit focusing on behavioural flexibility and learning in lizards of the Egernia group, a group of species with different degrees of sociality. Attention plays an important role during tests of behavioural flexibility, especially during reversal learning and set-shifting, which I use to test these lizards learning ability. During my 3.5 years at Macquarie University I also studied response inhibition and spontaneous quantity discrimination in lizards.
Recently, my research has increasingly focused on how ecology and life history shape learning. The environment an animal lives in determines its' adaptations to increase fitness and survival. To investigate how these adaptations shape an individuals, a populations or a species cognitive abilities is now one of my future research endeavours. However, I am very interested in broadening my skills even further. I want to incorporate more behaviour, ecology and physiology into my research to better understand differences in cognitive ability between individuals as well as between species.
After graduating from Macquarie University in September 2019, I will now start my first Postdoc at the University of Bern in Switzerland under the guidance of Dr. Eva Ringler. We will explore parental care behaviour in lizards and how cognition factors into parental care. I will also have the opportunity to work with frogs. Stay tuned for more herpy research to come in the future.