Akshay Rao

PhD Student
Contact akshayrao27@gmail.com
Project at the WSC Effects of feeding ecology on motivation and persistence in problem solving in dogs and wolves.
With us since September 2015
Favourite animal at the WSC None yet, but Amarok, Nia and Gombo might end up being my favourites.

I'm a PhD student at the WSC and am working on how food prefernces affect an animal's motivation to solve a problem and how far the animal persists in trying to solve the problem. Animals are faced with several choices and need to prioritize and choose between several trade-offs when foraging. Is it worth spending a long time trying to obtain food you really like or would it be a better idea to spend less time obtaining food that's easier to get but not as delicious? Would you rather work harder for a small, scrumptious meal or put in less effort for a lot of boring scraps? These decisions are likely to be affected not just by intrinsic taste preferences but also by physiological and social conditions. Puzzling out these decision making patterns could help better understand how differences in feeding ecologies affected the evolution of dogs.

Back home in India, I majored in Biochemistry for my Bachelor's degree and then pursued a Master's degree in Biodiversity Conservation and Utilization; I studied
nesting behaviour in Baya Weaverbirds (Ploceus Philippinus) for my Master's thesis. Later, I worked in a butterfly lab as a student trainee and assisted with a project that explored the evolution of sexual dimorphism in common Indian butterflies. I moved on to explore the application of mental imagery in memorization in competitive blindfolded Rubik's Cube speed solvers (having been a competitive speed cuber since 2010, this was of massive interest to me) while simultaneously working on social decision making in the Climbing Perch (Anabas testudineus), a common Ciclid. My last project before coming to the WSC was on understanding how personality traits change over metamorphosis in tadpoles of the Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus). Yeah, I've worked with a lot of animals, but through the course of my various projects I have evolved an interest in animal behaviour and cognition. My interest in diverse aspects of decision making and problem solving behaviour (and my love for dogs and fascination for wolves) led me to the WSC, where I hope to design some pretty crazy puzzles for wolves to solve and hopefully, find answers to questions that haven't been explored before!