The Jacobs Lab of Cognitive Biology




Spatial knowledge – knowing the location of resources, including your own location – is essential for survival. Because it is universal, we can make comparisons across species to identify how cognition evolves in response to the challenges of living in a specific environment – the study of cognitive biology, as we define it.

For example, humans and some squirrels practice spatial economics:  collecting, storing and managing stored wealth. Squirrels store seeds to survive the winter and distribute caches in such a way that they can remember cache locations yet keep the distribution pattern (the ‘password’) unpredictable to a cache thief. This simple winter ‘banking’ system, based on spatial memory, may be analogous to economic banking in humans, the only primate that stores wealth like squirrels [SPATIAL ECONOMICS]. In addition to these foraging decisions, squirrels face a lifelong challenge to navigate and ‘parkour’ adaptively through 3D canopies, in their search for seeds. We study all of these processes in wild adults and we also study the development of these behaviors in rescued juvenile squirrels, who are later released in the wild [SQUIRREL SCHOOL].

Spatial navigation in most animals involves multiple sensory modalities and cognitive processes. Yet one of the most powerful, as well as the most ancient and universal, sources of information for navigation is the sense of smell. The importance of odors has shaped the evolution of spatial behavior [OLFACTION AND SPACE]. The olfactory system is also a key component of the vertebrate navigation and memory system. [HIPPOCAMPAL MAPS]. Humans are again similar to other species in their use of odors to navigate and this function may have contributed to the evolution of the human external nose [HUMAN SPATIAL EVOLUTION].


SICB 2017

Nate Hunt presents our work on learning to leap in squirrels

ASAB 2016

Lucia gives plenary talk on squirrels at the London Zoo

RSS 2016

Lucia gives keynote address at Robotics: Science and Systems in Ann Arbor.


KQED films Mikel, with Amanda helping

Amanda Robin

Honor’s thesis presented at national and local conferences