Utku Urhan

Dr. Utku Urhan

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Visiting Address

Droevendaalsesteeg 10
6708 PB Wageningen

+31 (0) 317 47 34 00

The Netherlands


I have a broad interest in animal cognition and animal behaviour. Currently I am investigating between and within species variation in cognitive traits in three closely related species; marsh tits, blue tits and great tits.


I obtained my BSc degree in biology from Celal Bayar University, Turkey. I started my masters education in Animal Ecology at Lund University, Sweden. During the first year of my studies I developed a great interest in the field of animal behaviour and cognition. As a part of my master’s studies I conducted a research project on spatial memory accuracy in marsh tits (Poecile palustris). After receiving my MSc degree, I worked as a laboratory assistant at Lund University, where I investigated observational spatial learning abilities in great tits (Parus major). I started my PhD in March 2015 under the supervision of Anders Brodin. For my PhD I investigated within and between species differences in motor inhibition and social cognition abilities in marsh tits and great tits. During this time, I ran some side projects in which I investigated various cognitive traits in great tits – such as self-recognition, problem-solving and numerical competence. I defended my PhD in December 2017 and worked as a lecturer and research assistant. In 2020 I was awarded a Swedish Research Council International Postdoc grant and joined the van Oers group at NIOO-KNAW for a part of my project, where I investigate the cognitive and behavioural factors that causes variation in innovative problem solving ability between and within species.

Research groups


Projects & collaborations


  • What makes innovative animals innovative?

    Project 2020–2023
    Innovation ability allows animals to invent plastic behavioural responses to various novel ecological challenges, thereby making it possible to exploit new resources. Until now, studies have generally focused on innovation ability as a factor on its own and very little is known about how various cognitive and behavioural traits co-operate in their effect on innovation ability. These traits may be cognitive and behavioural specializations, meaning they have evolved for specific functions other than innovation, but act together to allow animals to innovate. The behavioural and cognitive traits that may affect innovation ability will vary between species and between populations of the same species living in different environments. My main purpose in this project is to try, by as many means as possible, to pinpoint core differences between innovators and non-innovators. I aim to do this by making both inter- and intraspecific comparisons of performance in cognitive and behavioural essays in three species from Paridae family.