Cognitive ecology – ecological factors, life-styles and cognition

Article English OPEN
Mettke-Hofmann, C
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Subject: RC0321 | BF

Cognitive ecology integrates cognition, ecology and neurobiology in one topic and has recently broadened into an exciting diversity of themes covering the entire range of cognition and ecological conditions. The review identifies three major environmental factors interacting with cognition: environmental variation (predictable and unpredictable), environmental complexity and predation. Generally, variable environments favour cognitive abilities such as exploration, learning, innovation, memory and also result in larger brains as compared to stable environments. Likewise, cognition is enhanced in complex versus simple environments, whereas the relationship between predation and cognitive abilities can be positive or negative. However, organisms have often evolved entire life-styles (e.g. residency vs migration, food-caching vs non-caching, generalism vs specialism) to deal with these environmental factors. Considering cognition within this framework provides a much more diverse picture of how cognitive abilities evolved in conjunction with other adaptations to environmental challenges. This integrated approach identifies gaps of knowledge and allows the formulation of hypotheses for future testing. Several recently emerged approaches study cognitive abilities at a new and in part highly integrated level. For example, the effect that environment has on the development of cognitive abilities during ontogeny will improve our understanding about cause and effect and gene x environment interactions. Together with two recently emerged highly integrative approaches that link personality and pace-of-life syndromes with cognitive ecology these new directions will improve insight how cognition is interlinked with other major organisational processes.
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