Dr. Alizée Vernouillet
Terrestrial Ecology Unit
Department of Biology
K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35
9000 Gent Belgium
Understanding how animals respond to environmental changes
I am a behavioural ecologist fascinated in understanding how animals respond to environmental changes, why individuals differ in their ability to adapt to these changes, and what are the long-term consequences of these changes on an individual’s fitness. More precisely, my research focuses on investigating the effects of the physical and social environments on the cognitive abilities and behavioural responses in animals. Hence, my research is multi-disciplinary and encompasses approaches from behavioural ecology, social cognition, and conservation. I have worked with multiple bird species (migratory songbirds; corvids – family of birds including crows, jays, magpies; quails; gulls), as well as with dogs.
During my PhD, I compared the behaviour of closely-related corvids to identify which environmental factors (social and physical) may influence an individual’s responses to novelty and to changes in a social context. For the latter, I studied the caching (i.e., food-storing) behaviour when individuals were observed by potential thieves or not. I also used a phylogenetic approach to compare corvids’ cognitive abilities such as inhibitory control, the ability to restrict an “instinctive response” (e.g., not going foraging in a dangerous environment when hungry), mirror self-recognition, the ability to recognize self when looking in a mirror, and abstract-concept learning, the ability to learn a new abstract concept (e.g., same/different, more/less).
During my master’s degree, I investigated the long-term effects of habitat selection at the breeding grounds on the survival rates of a migratory songbird, the Ovenbird. I also determined whether female songbirds could assess nest predation risk and build their nest accordingly.
My current research project involves understanding how early-life environmental factors such as group size/dynamics and food availability affect individuals’ ability to inhibit a response and how these might affect habitat choice and fitness on a longer term.