Dr. Debbie Kelly

Debbie Kelly

My research interests concern the evolution of cognition. My students, collaborators and I focus primarily on spatial and social cognition. Our comparative work on spatial cognition examines how animals, as diverse as ants, rodents, birds and humans, use information within their environment to orient and navigate. My research has examined issues such as how ecology and experience influence cue use, as well as how aging and the underlying mechanistic changes influence orientation and navigation. Within the area of social cognition, my laboratory focuses primarily on how food-storing birds use information when engaged in caching behavior.

I am currently a Professor in Psychology, an Adjunct Professor in Biological Sciences and a Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba. I am also the Editor-in-Chief for Animal Cognition, and Associate Editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Email: Debbie.Kelly @ umanitoba.ca

Dr. Christina Meier

Christina Meier

My research focuses on the decline of cognitive functions - such as memory, cognitive flexibility or impulse control - with increasing age and how it relates to changes in the brain. Thanks to their remarkably long lifespan, birds are the ideal study subjects to investigate the effects of old age; therefore, I examine whether aged pigeons show signs of behavioural or neurological impairments compared to their younger conspecifics. This research is kindly funded by a Research Manitoba Postdoctoral Fellowship grant.
Before joining the Kelly lab, I completed my PhD at the University of Exeter, UK. Supervised by Stephen Lea and Ian McLaren, I studied how the differences in the cognitive abilities of pigeons and humans influence their performance in tests of cognitive flexibility and control, and what such differences between the species might tell us about the way they plan and execute their actions.
Email: Christina.Meier @ umanitoba.ca

Dr. Dawson Clary

Dawson Clary

My PhD research focused on how living in different social structures affects complex cognition. In particular I am interested in whether non-social species share the cognitive abilities of their social counterparts. To do so, I used the food-caching behaviour of Clark's nutcrackers, a non-social corvid, to assess to what extent these large-brained birds know about the thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of other individuals, and how such social information can be used in both competitive and cooperative environments. Most recently, I have started to investigate mirror self-recognition in similar caching contexts to examine whether a representation of self is important for the social cognitive abilities of corvids.

I came to the Kelly lab from the University of Alberta, where I completed my BSc and worked under the supervision of Dr. Chris Sturdy, studying the vocal ontogeny of black-capped chickadee calls, and Dr. Marcia Spetch, studying the spatial search behaviour of pigeons.
Email: umclary @ cc.umanitoba.ca

Alizée Vernouillet

Alizee Vernouillet

During my PhD, I have investigated the importance of sociality and ecological factors such as cache reliance and dietary breadth on inter-specific interactions and complex problem solving in different species of corvids (pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), Clark’s nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana), scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica) and black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia)).

Previously, I completed my undergraduate and my master's degrees at the Université de Moncton, in New Brunswick, Canada. For my M.Sc., I focused on demographic parameters and on the behavioural ecology of the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), a migratory bird species. For my first chapter, I tried to determine which factors were influencing the apparent survival rate of male Ovenbirds over long time frames; for the second, I studied whether female songbirds were able to build their nest away from areas with a high density of potential nest predators.
Personal Website: https://alizeevernouillet.com/
Email: vernouia @ myumanitoba.ca

Shiva Shabro

Shiva Shabro

I am a Master's student in Biomedical Engineering, studying with Dr. Debbie Kelly and Dr. Andrew Goertzen. My research focuses on age-related changes in avian brain function measured using FDG-PET imaging. Birds present an important animal model to further our understanding of age-related cognitive decline. I examine age-related spatial degeneration at the behavioral and neural levels in pigeons, a highly spatially dependent species.
Our research will elucidate age-related neural changes directly underpinning cognitive decline, through the development of PET imaging techniques directly linked to cognitive-based problem solving. We anticipate our results will translate to a better understanding of general mechanisms underlying cognitive degeneration.
Email: shabros @ myumanitoba.ca

Breanna Cheri

Breanna Cheri

I am a Master’s student in Dr. Kelly’s research group. Some of my research interests include social cognition, personality, relationship dynamics, cognitive ethology, and learning. I graduated with a B.Sc. in Marine Biology from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). While there I completed an Undergraduate Honors Thesis focused on evaluating how trends in behavioral responses to aggression relate to individual characteristics in bottlenose dolphins. I plan to further this research in preparation for publication as well as conduct a new research project on Corvid cognition for my Master’s Thesis.

Before joining the lab I worked as a research assistant in The Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Lab at USM and later as a teaching assistant for Marine Mammalogy at The Gulf Coast Research Lab. I have most recently completed two animal training internships involving bottlenose dolphins, Pinnipeds, and Asian small clawed river otters.
Email: cherib @ myumanitoba.ca

Nanxi Huang

Nnaxi Huang

I am a Master’s student in Biological Sciences in Dr. Kelly’s lab. I am primarily interested in how spatial cognition in certain species has evolved to deal with the specific challenges in their environment. I have previously received my B. Sc. in Biology at the University of Western Ontario. I have conducted an undergraduate thesis under the supervision of Dr. Scott A. MacDougall-Shackleton, assessing sex-specific spatial memory differences in Brown-headed cowbirds’ (Molothrus ater).
Email: huangn1 @ myumanitoba.ca

Alejandro Rodrigo

Alejandro Rodrigo

I am currently doing an academic stay in the Comparative Cognition laboratory of Dr. Debbie Kelly. I am exploring how pigeons (Columba livia) prioritize information in their environment, specifically comparing geometrical (angular) and featural cues.
As part of my Ph.D. studies, I worked in the Learning and Comparative Cognition Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Jonathan Buriticá at the Behavioral Studies and Research Center (Guadalajara, Mexico). My primary research focus was studying spatial learning in vertebrates, specifically how animals, including humans, compute the information of multiple landmarks in the environment to locate a goal. As a secondary research line, we were investigating the cognitive abilities of wild Great Tailed-Grackles (Quiscallus mexicanus) and their capacities to adapt to hazardous environments, such as cities.
During my M.Sc., my research was focused on evaluating the effect of environmental enrichment in the performance of Wistar rats in multiple learning tasks, carried out in an open field, the radial arm maze, and operant chambers. Simultaneously, I am the Chief Operating Officer and Founding Partner of the company Walden Modular Equipment.
Email: alejandrodrigo86 @ gmail.com

Kevin Leonard

Kevin Leonard

I joined the lab in 2011, and completed my Honours Undergraduate Thesis on how C57Bl/6 mice use geometric and featural cues to reorient. Since then, I have continued on in the lab as a Research Technician, working on projects continuing our investigation of the behavioural and neuromolecular properties of spatial navigation in mice, although I am interested in spatial navigation generally. I have degrees in both Computer Science and Psychology from the University of Manitoba.
Email: umleona4 @ myumanitoba.ca


Our work is in part maintained by the hard work of dedicated volunteers:

  • Rand Abdul-Redha
  • Iroshini Gunasekera
  • Alifiya Agarwala
  • Candace Briggs
  • Cynthia Odimeguw
  • Abdelrahman Elzayadi
  • Abdallah Es-Haq
  • Harshita Kushwaha
  • Helen Harvie
  • Candace Briggs
  • Clarisse Romera

Past Members

  • Dr. Sebastian Schwarz, currently working at the University of Edinburgh
  • Dr. James Reichert, currently working at the University of Manitoba
  • Dr. Christiane Wilzeck, currently Scientific Project Officer at European Commission, Belgium
  • Althea Ambosta, currently Clinical Study Assistant for Hub Research at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Ontario
  • Dr. Inga Tiemann, currently a researcher at University of Bonn, Bonn
  • Ashley Olson, a previous undergraduate Honours student, now in the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine
  • Megan Siemens