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What can bird brains tell of the evolution of intelligence? | New Plymouth

Have you noticed when one bird is cleverer than another? Dr Rachael Shaw is fascinated by this behaviour and explains why it's significant.

Dr Rachael Shaw

Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington

Celebrating 25 years of Marsden Funding Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden

Are some individuals smarter than others? In virtually all animal populations, individual differences in cognitive ability are seen to have an impact on animals’ lives. Studying this is Dr Rachael Shaw and her team at the Wild Cognition Lab, who are looking at how our wild native birds learn about their world.

In a partnership between Victoria University of Wellington and Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, Rachael’s team are advancing unique systems for studying cognition in wild toutouwai (North Island robins) and kākā. By understanding the learning abilities of these birds, novel conservation applications could be developed, which could then help these vulnerable species recognise and avoid potential threats, once they venture beyond the protection of the sanctuary’s fence.

Fascinated with comparative cognition, biological scientist Dr Rachael Shaw also has a doctorate in psychology from the University of Cambridge. Her previous work challenges the assumption that some aspects of cognition are uniquely human.

EventBrite listing R Shaw fieldwork

About the Marsden Fund 25 Series

The Marsden Fund 25 Series celebrates 25 years of excellent research through regional lectures, online profiles and video interviews.

Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden was established by the New Zealand government in 1994. Since then, it has driven world-class research in New Zealand by supporting and incentivising excellent researchers to work on their best and boldest ideas, to connect internationally, leading to new knowledge and skills with the potential for significant downstream impact for Aotearoa.

To celebrate, the Marsden Fund 25 Series shines a light on 25 researchers to reflect on the depth and breadth of research excellence supported by this funding. Over coming months, there will be 15 regional lectures and 10 online profiles to explore.

Marsden 25


Dr Rachael Shaw

Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington


Royal Society Te Apārangi


New Plymouth Girls High School (Yr 13 Common Room) 60 Northgate, Strandon, New Plymouth, Taranaki 4312

6:00pm Fri 22 November, 2019 - 7:00pm Fri 22 November, 2019