Mobile animals must track and predict the behavior of prey, predators, mates and competitors across space and time. We are interested in how diverse animal species, including humans, do this - how they choose routes, attend to different spatial cues and make foraging and food-storing decisions - all in the context of a constantly changing physical and social environment.
We have several current research areas. First, we study the use of olfaction in navigation, even in humans (Jacobs, 2012; Jacobs et al., 2015). Recently funded by NSF, we are expanding this program to compare diverse invertebrate species with the decisions made by mammals such as search dogs and humans, to identify the universal heuristics of olfactory navigation.
We also study cognitive biomechanics: how animals use their knowledge of the structure of space - both its spatial layout and the biomechanical challenges of locomotion on different substrates - to develop energy-efficient routes during exploration and foraging. We study these questions using experimental studies of geckos, tree squirrels and other vertebrate species, as well as using computational models of behavior.
Finally, we study a squirrel’s decision to store food for the future, as an experimental paradigm for understanding how the environment, both physical and social, influences decision making. Tree squirrels face thousands of foraging decisions each fall – “should I eat or cache this acorn?” – as they must harvest and cache their winter food supply in a matter of weeks. Food items are hidden individually yet squirrels do not defend their extensive caching areas. Instead, they rely on careful economic decisions on which items to cache and where to cache them, as well as using mnemonics to help them remember thousands of cache locations. Finally, they also pilfer other squirrels’ caches, an area of current interest. We study these questions year-round using experimental and observational studies of individually-marked, habituated fox squirrels on the Berkeley campus, as well as developing computational models of these cache and retrieval decisions.
Our earlier work focused on how an individual’s spatial cognition and hippocampal structure may be adapted to its environmental structure and how this can differ among individuals of different species, sex or age. This work led to our development of the parallel map theory, an evolutionary model of navigation and hippocampal function (Jacobs & Schenk, 2003; Jacobs, 2006).
(updated, February 2016)
Delgado, M.M. and Jacobs, L.F. (in press). Inaccessibility of reinforcement increases persistence and signaling behavior in the fox squirrel, Sciurus niger. Journal of Comparative Psychology.
Jacobs, L. F., Arter, J., Cook, A., & Sulloway, F. J. (2015). Olfactory orientation and navigation in humans. PLoS ONE, 10(6) e0129387. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129387.s001.
Delgado, M.M., Nichols, M., Petrie, D.J. & Jacobs, L.F. (2014) Fox squirrels match food assessment and cache effort to value and scarcity. PLoS ONE, 9(3), e92892. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092892.s003.
Evan L. MacLean, et al. (2014) The evolution of self-control. PNAS, 111(20), E2140–8. doi:10.1073/pnas.1323533111
Jacobs, L.F. & Randolf Menzel (2014) Navigation outside the box: what the lab can learn from the field and what the field can learn from the lab. Movement Ecology 2: 3. DOI 10.1186/10.1186/2051-3933-2-3.
Jacobs, L. F. (2012). From chemotaxis to the cognitive map: the function of olfaction. PNAS, 109, 10693–10700.
Jacobs, Lucia F. (2006). From movement to transitivity: the role of hippocampal parallel maps in configural learning., Reviews in Neuroscience17(1-2), 99–109.
Jacobs, Lucia F., and Schenk, Françoise. (2003). Unpacking the cognitive map: the parallel map theory of hippocampal function. Psychological Review 110, 285-315.
Psychology 121: Animal Cognition
Psychology 290B: Evolution and the Mechanisms for Decision Making
Lucia F. Jacobs