Lauren Stanton, Ph.D. Student

Ph.D. Student
Email: lstanton@uwyo.edu

My passion for the study of animal behavior is fueled by my appreciation for, and desire to help, wildlife. I believe that we have much to learn about the cognitive abilities of animals, and that this information can be used in many beneficial ways. After finishing my master's degree on felid behavior, I was fortunate to have joined the Animal Behavior & Cognition Lab in the fall of 2014, and I am currently investigating some exciting questions about the mind of the raccoon. Raccoons have a reputation for being clever - anyone that has had to come up with creative ways to keep raccoons out of their garbage will tell you so. Yet we really do not know much about their problem solving skills, and how this might assist in their ability to thrive alongside humans. By building an understanding of the skills raccoons employ when problem solving, I hope to shed light on the cognitive processes used in successful adaptation to a variety of environments. I will do this by presenting raccoons with puzzles, or cognitively challenging tasks, that they must solve in order to receive a tasty reward. I anticipate that the results of my work will have important implications not only for biodiversity conservation, but also for the welfare of animals living in captivity.

Because raccoons are really great at finding ways to live alongside us, they are often a source of human-wildlife conflict. I am committed to helping reduce such conflict, and suggest that if you are struggling with raccoons (or any other wild neighbor), you can start by checking out the helpful suggestions of the Humane Society of the United States..

Current Research:
During the summer of 2015 I presented raccoons with a cognitive challenge known as Aesop’s Fable to investigate their understanding of cause and effect. Raccoons were required to drop stones and other items into a column of water in order to retrieve a floating marshmallow (an enticing reward for raccoons!). While no raccoons were initially able to solve the task, some individuals were able to learn how the apparatus worked with repeated exposure in learning trials. These individuals later showed appropriate discrimination when presented with options for solving the task (e.g. dense vs. hollow balls). Preliminary results suggest that raccoons who succeeded in solving the puzzle were able to understand the causal features of this novel problem. Right now, Emily Davis (UWRP undergraduate) and I are hard at work analyzing data to determine which traits may facilitate successful problem solving – a skill likely to be valuable in novel and changing environments.

Community Outreach:
By illuminating the intrinsic value and beauty of wildlife, I believe educational outreach has the potential to foster support for biodiversity conservation. Please contact the UWRP (raccoon@uwyo.edu) to find out how we can help connect your community to wildlife research and citizen science opportunities in Laramie. GO POKES!

Publications:

Stanton, L., Davis, E., Johnson, S., Gilbert, A., and Benson-Amram, S. 2017. “Adaptation of the Aesop’s Fable paradigm for use with raccoons (Procyon lotor): considerations for future application in non‐avian and non‐primate species.” Animal Cognition

Stanton, L., Sullivan, M., and Fazio, J. 2015. “A Standardized Ethogram for the Felidae: A Tool for Behavioral Researchers.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science (173)3-16.




You can download a preprint copy of this article by clicking here. More specific guidelines for the felid ethogram and its use can be downloaded here.