Elizabeth Phillips


Elizabeth Phillips completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (United States of American) in the spring of 2019. Her honors thesis investigated the step-fathering behavior of non-breeding clownfish (A. ocellaris) in the absence of the breeding pair. She continued working with fish as a research technician in the Boughman Lab at Michigan State University (United States of America) for the remainder of 2019 before joining the Behavioural Ecology group at Wageningen University as a PhD student in January 2020.

Research Interests

I’m interested in studying the cognition of fish and how the environment can shape its evolution. Specifically, I am currently working with the Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois spp.) to study the cognition of invasive species and with the Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) to study the effect of predation environment on cognitive landscape.


·          Fish Cognition

·          Invasive Species

·          Social Behavior

·          Evolution

·          Anti-Predator Behavior

Detailed Project Overview

Cognition of Invasive Species

As individuals invade novel environments during the invasion process, populations in the native range and front often experience different challenges and begin to diverge in traits. While this is well established in morphological characteristics, the consequences of biological invasions on cognition and the mechanisms that facilitate these differences remains enigmatic. What makes some species good invaders and which cognitive traits are important for such processes? This project investigates the how cognitive abilities and invasion are linked. We plan to use the Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois spp.) as a model for these questions by exploring the cognitive landscape of fish from the native range (Red Sea) and two invasive ranges (Caribbean and Mediterranean) using behavioral tests, learning assays, and brain morphology.

Effects of Predation Environment on Cognition

Trinidadian guppies (P. reticulata) are often used as a model system for testing the effects of high and low predation environments on the evolution of behavior. These tests are often carried out in natural environments, where other factors like food availability or productivity cannot be easily controlled. So the question remains: Do differences in predation risk have an effect on the evolution of cognition, and if so, what are those differences? To solve this, we are using artificial selection to test for evolved cognitive differences between guppies with and without predators in their environment.