Animal Cognition in Urban Environments: The effect of diet and the gut microbiome

01 January 2023 → 31 December 2024
European funding: framework programme, Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Natural sciences
    • Animal ecology
    • Microbiology not elsewhere classified
  • Social sciences
    • Animal experimental psychology
    • Comparative psychology
    • Biological and physiological psychology not elsewhere classified
animal cognition diet gut microbiome urbanization pigeons
Other information
Project description

Natural habitats are disappearing at record speeds, and our world is becoming increasingly urbanised. Recently, researchers started exploring how cognitive abilities (the mechanisms by which animals acquire, process, store and act on information from the environment) may allow animals to adapt to urban environments. Many of these studies revealed cognitive differences between
urban and non-urban dwelling animals and linked these to informational challenges related to the highly dynamic nature of urban environments. Here we hypothesize that urban diets also contribute to such cognitive differences. Although lab-based studies indeed showed important effects of diet on the development of cognition, this idea so far received little attention in the urban cognition literature. We will address this important knowledge gap by combining theoretical frameworks and methodology from psychology, ecology, and microbial sciences. Furthermore, as most of the previous work linking urbanization with cognition was correlational in nature, we will supplement our interdisciplinary approach with a powerful combination of controlled laboratory experiments and measures of cognition in the wild. Specifically, we will test how high-fat high-sugar diets (WP1), and the gut microbiome (WP2) shape cognition in three domains that are considered crucial for survival in urban environments, namely spatial learning, inhibitory control, and social learning. We will use feral pigeons, a species that thrives in urban environments, and whose diet varies widely between urban and non-urban environments, as our model species. 

Role of Ghent University
Ghent University will provide the necessary training and resources for the development and completion of the project, particularly on cognition and movement ecology.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the authority can be held responsible for them.