Zum Einfluss von Domestikation auf Lernverhalten und kognitive Fähigkeiten bei der Ziege (Capra hircus): Auswirkungen von langfristigem kognitivem Training auf die Haltung und das Wohlbefinden von Nutztieren

Contact: Dr. Jan Langbein

Duration: 2017-2020

Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG LA 1187/6-1

Cognitive tests are an important tool with which to investigate the mental capacities of non-human animals, and to provide insights into the process of domestication and how it has shaped behavioural and cognitive capacities. Often differing in their mental capacities compared to their wild counterparts, domestic animals are subject to intensive husbandry conditions, which offer only limited opportunities to perform characteristic species-specific behaviours and can thus lead to boredom, stress and frustration. Although structural enrichment has been known to counteract these negative outcomes, approaches that focus on the effects of cognitive training as a form of enrichment on measures of animal welfare (such as behavioural reactivity and stress physiology) are rarely investigated. Thus, the main goals of the proposed project are to investigate (1) the impact of domestication on the visual learning and cognitive capacities of an ungulate species, the goat (Capra hircus); (2) their ability to learn from con- and heterospecifics; and (3) the impact of long-term cognitive training on goats welfare, and their motivation to participate in specific cognitive challenging tasks. Study subjects are wild goats and two breeds of domestic goats with two different selection objectives (an intensive breed selected for high milk production and an extensive breed selected for herding in rural landscapes). First, we will investigate learning flexibility and the ability to use causal and social cues with a special focus on human-animal interactions and the impact of domestication (WP I and II). Second, we will investigate the effect of previous cognitive training/testing and of the selection objective on the ability of domestic goats to learn socially from either (a) a conspecific or (b) a human (WP III). Finally, we will determine the influence of long-term cognitive training on behavioural flexibility, stress reactivity, and human-animal interactions as well as the intrinsic motivation of domestic goats to participate in cognitively challenging tasks (WP IV). To optimize the external validity of our results, experiments will be carried out in two research facilities under similar housing and handling conditions. The results will provide significant insights into how domestication, in general and in relation to specific selection objectives, has affected the behaviour and cognition of non-human animals, using goats as a model species. Gaining deeper knowledge of the effects of domestication on livestock cognition is highly important because cognitive capacities affect the ability of livestock (and other captive and/or domestic animals) to adapt to husbandry conditions and human interactions. Consequently, we will provide new insights into the long-term effects of repeated cognitive training on behavioural, motivational and physiological parameters of domestic animals, enabling a greater incorporation of cognitive enrichment into concepts of animal welfare.