KevinAbbottDr Kevin Abbott


Email kabbott3 [at] connect [dot] carleton [dot] ca
Telephone +1 613 520 2600 (ext. 3866)
Fax +1 613 520 3539

Research Interests

I study cognition from an evolutionary perspective. This generally involves asking two related questions. Firstly, how does natural selection shape the evolution of cognitive strategies of a focal species? And secondly, how do these evolved cognitive adaptations affect the evolution of species that interact with the focal species? In the past I have studied this co-evolution of cognitive and non-cognitive traits in a system where pollinators attempt to detect, and avoid, flowers that contain camouflaged flower-dwelling ambush predators. Using game theory and signal detection theory models, I explored how the optimal search strategies of pollinators (a cognitive trait) might co-evolve with the colour of the flowers and the movement strategies of the predators (non-cognitive traits that are exposed to selection by the pollinators' cognitive strategy).

In the Sherratt lab, I have been applying this approach to other systems. For example, I have extended the model described above to other types of predator-prey systems involving camouflage. I will likely also work on applying similar models to mimicry systems (see for example Sherratt 2002). In collaboration with Tom Sherratt, I am currently developing a novel optimal cognition model. In particular, we are exploring how causal learning mechanisms can cope with the risk of superstitious beliefs to produce optimal behaviours in uncertain environments. We may, then explore how this optimal learning strategy co-evolves with the traits of species that either benefit, or are harmed, when the focal species develops a superstitious belief about the causal nature of its environment.


Abbott, K. & Sherratt, T.N. (2013)  Optimal sampling and signal detection: unifying models of attention and speed-accuracy trade-offs Behavioural Ecology. 24 (3)605-616.

Penney, H.D., Hassall, C., Skevington, J.H., Abbott, K.R. & Sherratt, T.N. A comparative analysis of the evolution of imperfect mimicry. Nature. 483 (7390): 461-4.

Abbott, K.R. & T.N. Sherratt (2011). The evolution of superstition through optimal use of incomplete information. Animal Behaviour, 82: 85-92. [COVERED BY INSIDE SCIENCE NEWS SERVICE]

Abbott K. and Dukas R. (2011) Effects of animal camouflage on the evolution of live backgrounds. In: Stevens, M. and Merilaita, S. (Eds.), Animal Camouflage: Mechanisms and Function, pp275-297. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Abbott K. (2010) Background evolution in camouflage systems: A predator-prey/pollinator-flower game. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 262:662–678.

Abbott K. and Dukas R. (2009) Honeybees consider flower danger in their waggle dance. Animal Behaviour. 78: 633-635

Abbott K. (2006) Bumblebees avoid flowers containing evidence of past predation events. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 84: 1240-1247.

Dukas R., Clark C.W., and Abbott K. (2006) Courtship strategies of male insects: When is learning advantageous? Animal Behaviour. 72:1395-1404.

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