About this Research Topic
At least since Darwin argued that the difference in cognitive abilities between animals and humans is one of degree and not of kind, the study of animal cognition has been an active and dynamic subfield of behavioral sciences. It has, however, been based almost entirely on experimental studies of animals in captivity and belongs - as a field - more snugly in the realm of Psychology (or Ethology), with relatively little application to understanding the behavior of animals in the wild.
Movement Ecology, in contrast, is a more recent branch of Ecology devoted almost entirely to the analysis of animal movements in the wild. Technological developments allow for animals to be tracked in the wild in ever-increasing numbers, precision, and duration. Movement ecology has, to some extent, “chased the data”, reflecting the practical need to analyze and interpret those data. Much of the most important developments of recent decades are devoted to dealing with the trickier aspects of the statistical analysis of movement data - which in their multidimensionality, autocorrelation, gappiness and measurement error, and behavioral complexity pose no shortage of hairy statistical problems.
There is little doubt that when navigating their environment, animals rely on high-level cognitive processes, in particular: non-local perception, spatial memory, learning, and social knowledge (or “culture”). In nearly all imaginable cases access to these abilities are central to animals’ abilities to survive in the wild. Though the overlap between the field of cognition and movement ecology is relatively small, increasingly - theoretical and empirical analyses of and ecological studies are exploring and incorporating these cognitive processes.
We propose to bring together a collection of articles on the theme of “Cognitive Movement Ecology”. This term does not properly exist as such, but is meant to encompass research that bridges cognitive ecology and movement ecology. Enough work along these lines is bubbling up that the time seems right to review existing and active work, place various studies into a larger context, and point towards future directions. The overarching goal is to comprehensively review movement studies of cognition in wild animals, present some applications and conceptual frameworks, and collect a set of novel studies unified by the theme. Along the way, we hope to clarify some of the parameters and definitions of this novel field and to clearly lay out directions in which incorporating cognition in animal movement analysis can help answer relevant questions in ecology.
We welcome any kind of active research on cognition in movement ecology from interested authors. A few examples of specific ideas to explore are listed below:
(1) Exploring the ecological and evolutionary roles of memory and cultural transmission in helping animals spatially navigate long-term changes, especially with respect to climate change and habitat modifications.
(2) Bringing non-local information, perception, learning, and memory into the (very widely used) step-selection and resource selection (SSF/RSF) frameworks for quantifying habitat preference and use.
(3) Applied reasons to study cognitive movement ecology. Many situations in conservation and management require simultaneous consideration of cognitive and movement processes. Some examples include the success of translocations and reintroductions, minimizing human-wildlife conflicts, and socially mediated Allee effects for small populations.
(4) Lessons from the experimental study of cognition and learning in animals to guide how animal movement studies might be improved, with the goal of addressing the largest issue: What kinds of data do we need to collect, models do we need to develop, and heuristics do we need to follow to compensate for the inability to perform controlled experimentation?
Keywords: Movement ecology, cognition
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