Lara Bernasconi

August 2016 - February 2017

I am doing my master in biology in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. This master offered me the opportunity to specialize in animal behavior and biodiversity and evolution. When during high school my professor of science, and ethologist, told us about his passion in animal behavior and its experiences, I fell in love with this field of science. I after went to Canada, and there I fell in love with the vast alpine landscape of British Columbia, and with wild animals.

I have always loved nature and animals, so nothing could make me happier than be able to work in nature with animals. For these reasons, I chose to study biology, and more precisely, animal behavior. 

Wolves have always fascinated me, because of their strong toughness, their amazing intraspecific cooperation, their elegance, intelligence and endurance. Moreover, I love the habitat they live in: mountains, green forests and large rivers. I love alpine landscape, and I love wolves. Therefore, working at the WSC has been an opportunity not to be missed! Here at the WSC the atmosphere is unique, a little world, with amazing people, nature and amazing animals. I will never forget this experience. I have been here only for two weeks, therefore I am still getting used to the place and the daily activities we do, but I am very excited and looking forward to begin my tests with the animals. I love the quiet evenings when the wolves start howling and everything becomes magic.

Here I will collect data for my master thesis, under the supervision of Dr. Friederike Range and PhD student Akshay Rao. I will measure persistence in WSC dogs and wolves in order to find out some differences between them. These differences are supposed to be due to the domestication history of the dog, which lead to differences in the feeding ecology of wolves and dogs (hunters vs. scavengers) and/or to selection by humans for a lower level of persistence, but for a more human-directed cooperation. The question is: are wolves more persistent than dogs when engaging with tasks involving food as reward, reflecting their long hunting history and independence from humans? Persistence will be measured as the amount of time the animal will engage with an “unsolvable task”, so where food can never be reached by the animal.

Thanks to this study, we will gain insights into some dogs and wolves behavioral and cognitive evolutionary differences. We will also contribute to the knowledge of the behavior of this amazing predator, the wolf.

In the future, my dream is to work for the conservation of the wolf in Europe, where the comeback of this predator is not accepted by everyone, creating disagreement among people. Improving the knowledge of the behavior of this predator will favor its conservation and a better protection of herds.