Changing tides: Ecological and historical perspectives on fish cognition

B. Wren Patton, Victoria A. Braithwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The capacity for specialization and radiation make fish an excellent group in which to investigate the depth and variety of animal cognition. Even though early observations of fish using tools predates the discovery of tool use in chimpanzees, fish cognition has historically been somewhat overlooked. However, a recent surge of interest is now providing a wealth of material on which to draw examples, and this has required a selective approach to choosing the research described below. Our goal is to illustrate the necessity for basing cognitive investigations on the ecological and evolutionary context of the species at hand. We also seek to illustrate the importance of ecology and the environment in honing a range of sensory systems that allow fish to glean information and support informed decision-making. The various environments and challenges with which fish interact require equally varied cognitive skills, and the solutions that fish have developed are truly impressive. Similarly, we illustrate how common ecological problems will frequently produce common cognitive solutions. Below, we focus on four topics: spatial learning and memory, avoiding predators and catching prey, communication, and innovation. These are used to illustrate how both simple and sophisticated cognitive processes underpin much of the adaptive behavioral flexibility exhibited throughout fish phylogeny. Never before has the field had such a wide array of interdisciplinary techniques available to access both cognitive and mechanistic processes underpinning fish behavior. This capacity comes at a critical time to predict and manage fish populations in an era of unprecedented global change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-176
Number of pages18
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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