Dr. Miriam Sima

IMPRS Alumni
MPI for Ornithology Seewiesen

Main Focus

Ontogeny of communication and cognition in corvids
In human infants the age period from 9 to 12 months is crucially for the emergence of infants' initial skills of social cognition and communication, with the acquisition of language skills (in either comprehension or production) following closely behind. The major goal of this PhD is to test the hypothesis that these developmental steps also happen in corvids similar to in human children in the first year of life and that they enable a more flexible use of gestures. Ravens are an ideal study species because currently they are the only bird species for which researchers investigated gestures and they are also known for their sophisticated cognitive skills.
The present project will address the following research questions:

  1. When do important cognitive milestones take place in the ontogeny of crows and ravens? First I will focus here on the development of the influence of social relationships and hierarchy in a competitive foraging situation. Second I will investigate the ontogeny of different social and physical cognitive abilities.
  2. What are the mechanism underlying the acquisition of gestures in ravens? Are gestures derived from genetic disposition or are they due to individual or social learning processes? By comparing two different groups of young ravens, which are raised differently (hand-raised vs parent-raised) I want to assess how gestures are developed in birds.
  3. Are ravens able to understand and share intentions and are they capable of adapting their behavior according to the social context?

Curriculum Vitae

Education
  • 2006-2009: Bachelor in Behaviour at the University of Graz, Austria, Bachelor of science (Bakk. rer. nat.)
  • 2009-2012: Master in Behaviour, Neurobiology and Cognition at the University of Vienna, Austria
  • 2012-2018: PhD studentship, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, German (group S. Pika)
Research experience
  • Apr 2010-present: Project investigating conflict behaviour in crows (Corvus corone) "Conflict management in the Carrion and the Hooded Crows". Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Supervisors: Prof. Thomas Bugnyar and Dr. Orlaith Fraser
  • Jul 2010-Sep 2010: Project investigating the ontogeny of calls in the common raven (Corvus corax). Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Supervisors: Prof. Thomas Bugnyar and Mag. Markus Böckle
  • Sep 2010-Feb 2011: Master thesis "Food monopolization in the common raven (Corvus corax)". Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Supervisor: Prof Thomas Bugnyar
  • Mar 2011-Jul 2011: Follow up experiment "Effect of group composition on accessibility of food in the common raven (Corvus Corax)". Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Supervisor: Prof Thomas Bugnyar
  • Jul 2011-Oct 2011: Project design and preliminary data collection "Investigating future planning abilities in the common raven (Corvus Corax)". Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Supervisor: Prof Thomas Bugnyar
  • Jan 2012-Mar 2012: Internship "Investigating future planning abilities in the common raven (Corvus Corax) and planning experiment in great apes" Play experiments in the common raven; Introduction to eye-tracking. Lund University Cognitive Science, Sweden, Supervisor: Dr Mathias Osvath
Awards & Scholarships
  • Jan 2011: Grant for good marks (Leistungsstipendium) University of Vienna
  • Dec 2011: Funding: KWA (Kurzes wissenschaftliches Arbeiten im Ausland) University of Vienna
  • Apr 2013: 1 year scholarship IMPRS
  • Apr 2013: Travel fund ASAB Easter Meeting, Association of Animal Behaviour
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