What is the function of brain and behaviour? How did it evolve? How is it adapted to the environment?
NERD is the main neuroecological research group in Denmark dedicated to find answers to the above questions, which can only be answered through basic research. NERD aims to develop original basic research of brain and behaviour using a neuroecological approach.
David F. Sherry describes neuroecology in the introduction of his paper (Sherry, 2006):
“Neuroecology is the study of adaptive variation in cognition and the brain. It uses experimental and comparative methods to understand the evolution of animal cognition—specifically the effects of natural and sexual selection on cognition— and identifies correlations among ecological selection pressures, cognition, and brain structure. Although neuroecology focuses on behavior that animals exhibit in nature, it uses experimental laboratory methods to investigate cognition and comparative anatomical methods to examine the neural correlates of cognition.”
Neuroscience has made great advances over many decades within the field of brain and behaviour. It has provided important knowledge about brain function; how many mechanisms work in small isolated systems, such as laboratory bred or genetically modified animals.
But how can we apply this knowledge to a natural setting?
Neuroecology fills this gap in brain research by investigating the natural variation in structure and function of the brain in relation to the complexity of animals’ natural behaviour. This increases the translational validity of behavioural brain research in animals making it even more relevant to the understanding of human complex behaviours and brain.
Sherry, D. F. (2006) Neuroecology. Annu. Rev. Psychol 57:167–97