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Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies

Communication and Cognition in Social Mammals

Communication and Cognition in Social Mammals

We are interested in the understanding of animal societies. We investigate proximate and functional aspects on group coordination (leadership and group decisions) and in particular, communication and cognition in mammals. With a comparative approach we identify what selective factors favor communicative complexity (e.g., vocal repertoire size, variation in call structure within call types, call combinations, etc…) and the underlying cognitive mechanisms. We focus on phylogenetic closely related or sympatric living species showing variation in their social structure. Based on behavioural observations of habituated animals in their natural habitat we test specific hypotheses with field experiments, and also on captive animals.

Head of group: Prof. Dr. Marta Manser

Research themes

  • Communication and cognition in small mammals
  • Hormones and vocal production and perception
  • Communicative complexity and social complexity
  • Animal communication and human language
  • Leadership and group decisions in meerkats and banded mongoose
  • Social dynamics and mitigation strategies in cooperative breeders
  • Spatial orientation in meerkats
  • Caching behaviour in ground squirrels
  • Social and genetic structure of slender mongoose
  • Conservation of hares in Switzerland
  • Effect of domestication on understanding perception and deception in dogs


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