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From ecology to neurobiology: spatial cognition in rainforest frogs

Project description

Studying spatial cognition in poison frogs

Survival and successful reproduction hinges on an animal’s ability to navigate in space. However, our understanding of the mechanisms underlying species and sex differences in spatial abilities and how these differences emerge through evolution remains limited. The EU-funded FrogsInSpace project will conduct innovative research that integrates a wide range of expertise to respond to basic questions in comparative cognition in a novel study system: the tropical poison frogs. The project will pioneer fieldwork, neuroscience tools and modelling to reveal species and sex differences in spatial cognition, identify neural mechanisms controlling spatial behaviour, and integrate behavioural and neural aspects of frogs’ behaviour from an ecological, cognitive, neurobiological and evolutionary perspective.


The ability to navigate the environment has a profound impact on animal survival and reproductive success. Sex and species differences in spatial abilities are widespread, but understanding the mechanisms underlying variation in spatial cognition and how these differences arise through evolution remains challenging. I propose an interdisciplinary project aimed at understanding the sex and species differences in spatial cognition of tropical poison frogs from ecological, cognitive, neurobiological, and evolutionary perspectives. Poison frogs are ideal for understanding the evolution and neural mechanisms of vertebrate spatial cognition because sexes and closely related species show contrasting life histories and spatial behaviors. Specifically, species differ in whether females or males provide parental care to tadpoles and have larger home ranges. This offers a rare opportunity to link the sex and species differences in life history with differences in spatio-cognitive abilities at the behavioral and the neural levels. Recently, I have used tracking to study variation in frog space use, developed assays for quantifying navigational performance under natural conditions, and demonstrated that poison frogs rely on spatial memory for navigation. Building on this groundwork, I will collaborate with experts in behavioral neuroscience and movement ecology to (1) reveal sex and species differences in poison frog spatial cognition, (2) identify neural mechanisms governing sex differences in spatial cognition using cutting-edge neuroscience tools, and (3) integrate ecological, behavioral, and neural aspects of poison frog spatial behavior using modeling. FrogsInSpace is an ambitious yet realistic project that will establish a novel study system and integrate a broad range of expertise to address important questions in comparative cognition. It will be critical for my development as an expert working at the interface between animal ecology, cognition, and neurobiology.


Net EU contribution
€ 257 619,84
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 257 619,84

Partners (1)