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How Carnivore Species Solve Problems Topic of AMK Ranch Talk July 30

July 24, 2015
woman with hyena
Sarah Benson-Amram, University of Wyoming Department of Zoology and Physiology assistant professor, will discuss how carnivores adapt to their environment in an ever-changing landscape. Her talk Thursday, July 30, is part of the weekly Harlow Summer Seminars at the UW-National Park Service Research Center. (Mara Hyena Project, Michigan State University)

Do different carnivore species have the ability to solve problems? That’s the topic of discussion during the weekly Harlow Summer Seminars Thursday, July 30, at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service (UW-NPS) Research Center. The center is located at the AMK Ranch in Grand Teton National Park.

Sarah Benson-Amram, University of Wyoming Department of Zoology and Physiology assistant professor, will discuss “The evolution of problem-solving abilities in carnivores: Badgers and bears to snow leopards and spotted hyenas,” at 6:30 p.m. at the AMK Ranch, located north of Leeks Marina. A barbecue, at a cost of $5 per person, will take place at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are not required. For more information, call the UW-NPS Research Center at (307) 543-2463.

“How do you give a hyena an IQ test? How do you design an IQ test that is fair for both a one-pound dwarf mongoose and an 850-pound polar bear?” Benson-Amram asks. She will discuss how carnivores adapt by summarizing several of her research projects.

One study investigates whether wild spotted hyenas can count the number of intruders in their territory. Another project examines whether wild and captive spotted hyenas can solve a puzzle they have never seen before and identify what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful individuals. A third project focuses on the problem-solving abilities of 43 species of carnivores in zoos and seeks to find whether a species’ brain size predicts its ability to solve a novel problem.

Benson-Amram and her UW graduate students are interested in understanding the evolution of complex cognitive abilities in animals; investigating what animals know about their social and ecological environments; and asking how animals use this knowledge and their ability to learn about their environments in adaptive ways.

“More than ever, animals need to be able to quickly adapt to new conditions and deal with novel challenges,” she says. “We are interested in understanding the role of cognition in these situations. We are currently studying raccoons in Wyoming, Asian elephants in Sri Lanka, and working with a diverse set of captive animals from Arctic foxes to zebra finches.”

The UW-NPS Research Center provides a base for university faculty members and government scientists from throughout North America to conduct research in the diverse aquatic and terrestrial environments of Grand Teton National Park and the greater Yellowstone area.

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