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Ecology and Conservation

Prof Alex Thornton

Prof Alex Thornton

Professor of Cognitive Evolution

 01326 255081

 Daphne du Maurier DDM 3059


Daphne du Maurier Building, University of Exeter,  Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK


My research group website can be found at

We seek to understand how the challenges faced by animals (including humans) in their natural environments shape their mental processes, how the ability to learn from others affects the behaviour of individuals and groups, and how culture itself evolves.

We incorporate approaches from evolutionary biology, psychology and anthropology and work on a range of different study systems. Our current work focuses on cognition and behaviour in wild jackdaws and the cognitive requirements of cumulative culture in humans.

I am a member of the Behaviour research group and the Human Biological and Cultural Evolution group.


2007 PhD Zoology, University of Cambridge
2003 BA (Hons), University of Oxford


2021 - present Professor of Cognitive Evolution, Exeter
2018 - 2021 Associate Professor, Exeter
2015 - 2018 Senior Lecturer, Exeter
2012 - 2015 BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow, Exeter
2010 - 2012 BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow, Cambridge
2007 - 2010 Pembroke College Research Fellow, Cambridge
2003 - 2007 PhD, Cambridge


Research group links

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Research interests

For further details of my research please visit my group website at:

My  research uses a comparative approach to investigate two of the most important issues in behavioural biology: the evolution of intelligence and the biological origins of culture. The vast majority of work on these topics has been conducted on captive animals and so tells us little about the selective pressures operating in natural populations. In contrast, I use a variety of experimental, observational and statistical techniques to understand the factors driving cognitive evolution and cultural information transmission in the wild. My early research focused on cooperatively breeding meerkats in the Kalahari Desert. In 2012, I established the Cornish Jackdaw Project; now the world's largest dedicated field system for the study of corvid cognition. In addition to my research on wild animals, I also conduct experimental studies of cultural transmission in humans. My current research focuses on six main areas:

  1. The role of sociality in driving cognitive evolution
  2. The causes and consequences of individual variation in cognitive ability
  3. The effects of social learning on individual and group behaviour
  4. Collective behaviour in heterogeneous groups
  5. The cognitive foundations of cumulative culture
  6. Using cognitive research to promote effective conservation

Research projects

The Cornish Jackdaw Project
Corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws, jays and magpies) have brains of a similar size to chimpanzees (relative to the size of their bodies) and are famed for their sophisticated cognitive abilities. However, as almost all research has been conducted in captivity, we have little idea of the factors that favoured the evolution of corvid cognition in nature. Studies of corvids in their natural environment are essential to allow us to better understand cognitive evolution in the animal kingdom. The Cornish Jackdaw Project is a  dedicated, long-term field site for the study of corvid cognition. Jackdaws are highly sociable corvids that form long-term relationships embedded within dynamic social networks, making them ideal subjects for cognitive research. They also have the practical advantage over other corvid species that they will take to nest boxes, so they can be easily monitored. Read more about the Cornish Jackdaw Project here, or follow us on twitter @CornishJackdaws.

Kalahari Meerkat Project
The Kalahari Meerkat Project, run by Tim Clutton-Brock and Marta Manser is a long-term research project comprising multiple groups of individually recognisable, habituated meerkats. My research at the project has examined social learning and development, the evolution of teaching and the establishment of traditions. You can learn more about this work, and about cultural evolution in general, here.

Collaborative work

I have been fortunate enough to collaborate on some great projects with fantastic people. Recent collaborations include work with Lucy Aplin and colleagues on conformity and culture in great tits and Ben Ashton and Mandy Ridley at the University of Western Australia on sociality and cognition in Australian Magpies.

Research grants

2021 Leverhulme Trust (PI)
The role of relationships in cognitive evolution

2020 Australian Research Council (Co-I, with PI Amanda Ridley, University of Western Australia)
Understanding the relationship between sociality and cognition

2017 Human Frontiers Research Program (PI)
Collective behaviour and information transmission in heterogeneous societies

2015 ESRC (PI)
The cognitive requirements of cumulative culture: experiments with typically developing and autistic people

2014 BBSRC (Co-I, with PI Ben Sheldon, Oxfore)
The social dynamics of cultural behaviour

2014 Australian Research Council (Co-I, with PI Amanda Ridley, University of Western Australia)
The benefits of sociality: cooperation, cognition and fitness in Australian magpies

2010 BBSRC
David Phillips Research Fellowship: The evolution of corvid intelligence

2010 British Ecological Society
BES Research Grant

2006 Cambridge Philosophical Society

Research networks

Lucy Aplin, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Neeltje Boogert, Exeter

Nicky Clayton, Cambridge

Tim Clutton-Brock, Cambridge

Sasha Dall, Exeter

Ines Fuertbauer, Swansea

Kevin Laland, St Andrews

Dieter Lukas, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Marta Manser, Zurich

Katherine McAuliffe, Boston College

Steve Portugal, Royal Holloway University London

Andrew King, Swansea

Andy Radford, Bristol

Nichola Raihani, UCL

Amanda Ridley, University of Western Australia

Nicholas Ouellette, Stanford

Richard Vaughan, Simon Fraser University

Research grants

  • 2023 Wild Animal Initiative
    Social connections and their welfare implications in the wild

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Journal articles

Prentice P, Thornton A, Kolm N, Wilson A (In Press). Genetic and context-specific effects on individual inhibitory control performance in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Prentice P, mnatzaganian C, Houslay T, Thornton A, Wilson A (In Press). Individual differences in spatial learning are correlated across tasks but not with stress response behaviour in guppies. Animal Behaviour
Van Berkel M, Thornton A, Kelley L (In Press). The effect of building ability and object availability on the construction of bower courts in great bowerbirds. Animal Behaviour
Speechley EM, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, King SL, Simmons LW, Woodiss-Field SL, Ridley AR (2024). Aggressive interactions influence cognitive performance in Western Australian magpies. Proc Biol Sci, 291(2024). Abstract.  Author URL.
Broad HR, Dibnah AJ, Smith AE, Thornton A (2024). Anthropogenic disturbance affects calling and collective behaviour in corvid roosts. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 379(1905). Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A (2024). Bees and chimpanzees learn from others what they cannot learn alone. Nature, 627(8004), 491-492. Abstract.
Speechley EM, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Simmons LW, Ridley AR (2024). Heritability of cognitive performance in wild Western Australian magpies. Royal Society open science, 11(3). Abstract.
Hooper R, Maher K, Moore K, McIvor G, Hosken D, Thornton A (2024). Ultimate drivers of forced extra-pair copulations in birds lacking a penis: jackdaws as a case-study. Royal Society open science, 11(3). Abstract.
Blackburn G, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Woodiss-Field S, Ridley AR (2023). Cognition mediates response to anthropogenic noise in wild Western Australian magpies (Gmynorhina tibicen dorsalis). Global Change Biology, 29(24), 6912-6930. Abstract.
Arbon JJ, Hahn LG, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2023). Competition and generalization impede cultural formation in wild jackdaws. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 290(2004). Abstract.
Soravia C, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Ridley AR (2023). High temperatures are associated with reduced cognitive performance in wild southern pied babblers. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 290(2011). Abstract.
Soravia C, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Bourne AR, Ridley AR (2023). High temperatures during early development reduce adult cognitive performance and reproductive success in a wild animal population. The Science of the Total Environment, 912
Thornton A, Mesoudi A (2023). Untenable propositions and alternative avenues.: Comment to "Blind alleys and fruitful pathways in the comparative study of cultural cognition" by Andrew Whiten. Phys Life Rev, 44, 51-53.  Author URL.
Kings M, Arbon JJ, McIvor GE, Whitaker M, Radford AN, Lerner J, Thornton A (2023). Wild jackdaws can selectively adjust their social associations while preserving valuable long-term relationships. Nature Communications, 14(1). Abstract.
Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Speechley EM, Ridley AR (2022). Does trappability and self-selection influence cognitive performance?. Royal Society open science, 9(9). Abstract.
Driscoll I, Manser M, Thornton A (2022). Function of meerkats' mobbing-like response to secondary predator cues: recruitment not teaching. Animal Behaviour, 194, 111-126.
Soravia C, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Ridley AR (2022). General cognitive performance declines with female age and is negatively related to fledging success in a wild bird. Proc Biol Sci, 289(1989). Abstract.  Author URL.
Blackburn G, Broom E, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Ridley AR (2022). Heat stress inhibits cognitive performance in wild Western Australian magpies, Cracticus tibicen dorsalis. Animal Behaviour, 188, 1-11. Abstract.
Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Cauchoix M, Ridley AR (2022). Long-term repeatability of cognitive performance. R Soc Open Sci, 9(5). Abstract.  Author URL.
McIvor GE, Lee VE, Thornton A (2022). Nesting jackdaws’ responses to human voices vary with local disturbance levels and the gender of the speaker. Animal Behaviour, 192, 119-132.
Hooper R, Brett B, Thornton A (2022). Problems with using comparative analyses of avian brain size to test hypotheses of cognitive evolution. PLOS ONE, 17(7), e0270771-e0270771. Abstract.
Reynolds AM, McIvor GE, Thornton A, Yang P, Ouellette NT (2022). Stochastic modelling of bird flocks: accounting for the cohesiveness of collective motion. J R Soc Interface, 19(189). Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Truskanov N (2022). The role of natural history in animal cognition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 46 Abstract.
O'Coin D, Mclvor GE, Thornton A, Ouellette NT, Ling H (2022). Velocity correlations in jackdaw flocks in different ecological contexts. Phys Biol, 20(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Dibnah AJ, Herbert-Read JE, Boogert NJ, McIvor GE, Jolles JW, Thornton A (2022). Vocally mediated consensus decisions govern mass departures from jackdaw roosts. Curr Biol, 32(10), R455-R456. Abstract.  Author URL.
Brakes P, Carroll EL, Dall SRX, Keith SA, McGregor PK, Mesnick SL, Noad MJ, Rendell L, Robbins MM, Rutz C, et al (2021). A deepening understanding of animal culture suggests lessons for conservation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288(1949). Abstract.
Lee VE, Thornton A (2021). Animal Cognition in an Urbanised World. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9 Abstract.
Hahn LG, Hooper R, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2021). Cooperative nest building in wild jackdaw pairs. Animal Behaviour, 178, 149-163.
Soravia C, Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Ridley AR (2021). The impacts of heat stress on animal cognition: Implications for adaptation to a changing climate. WILEY INTERDISCIPLINARY REVIEWS-CLIMATE CHANGE, 12(4).  Author URL.
Hooper R, Meekins E, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2021). Wild jackdaws respond to their partner's distress, but not with consolation. R Soc Open Sci, 8(6). Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Happé F, Caldwell CA (2020). Supporting the weight of the elephant in the room: Technical intelligence propped up by social cognition and language. Behav Brain Sci, 43 Abstract.  Author URL.
Goumas M, Lee VE, Boogert NJ, Kelley LA, Thornton A (2020). The Role of Animal Cognition in Human-Wildlife Interactions. Frontiers in Psychology, 11
Thornton A, Lucas A, Kings M, Whittle D, Davey E (2020). The value of teaching increases with tool complexity in cumulative cultural evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 287, 20201885-20201885. Abstract.
Thornton A, Boogert NJ (2019). Animal Cognition: the Benefits of Remembering. Current Biology, 29(9), R324-R327. Abstract.
Brakes P, Dall SRX, Aplin LM, Bearhop S, Carroll EL, Ciucci P, Fishlock V, Ford JKB, Garland EC, Keith SA, et al (2019). Animal cultures matter for conservation. Science
Ling H, Mclvor GE, Westley J, van der Vaart K, Vaughan RT, Thornton A, Ouellette NT (2019). Behavioural plasticity and the transition to order in jackdaw flocks. Nature Communications, 10(1). Abstract.
Ling H, Mclvor GE, Westley J, van der Vaart K, Yin J, Vaughan RT, Thornton A, Ouellette NT (2019). Collective turns in jackdaw flocks: kinematics and information transfer. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 16(159), 20190450-20190450. Abstract.
Coomes JR, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2019). Correction to ‘Evidence for individual discrimination and numerical assessment in collective antipredator behaviour in wild jackdaws (. <i>Corvus monedula</i>. )’. Biology Letters, 15(11), 20190740-20190740.
Ling H, McIvor GE, van der Vaart K, Vaughan RT, Thornton A, Ouellette NT (2019). Costs and benefits of social relationships in the collective motion of bird flocks. Nature Ecology and Evolution
Coomes JR, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2019). Evidence for individual discrimination and numerical assessment in collective antipredator behaviour in wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Biology Letters, 15(10). Abstract.
Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Ridley AR (2019). Larger group sizes facilitate the emergence and spread of innovations in a group-living bird. Animal Behaviour, 158, 1-7. Abstract.
Ling H, McIvor GE, van der Vaart K, Vaughan RT, Thornton A, Ouellette NT (2019). Local interactions and their group-level consequences in flocking jackdaws. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286, 20190865-20190865. Abstract.
Ashton BJ, Ridley AR, Thornton A (2019). Smarter through group living: a response to Smulders. Learn Behav, 47(4), 277-279. Abstract.  Author URL.
Lee VE, Régli N, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2019). Social learning about dangerous people by wild jackdaws. Royal Society Open Science, 6(9), 191031-191031. Abstract.
Lee VE, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2019). Testing relationship recognition in wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Sci Rep, 9(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Ashton BJ, Thornton A, Ridley AR (2018). An intraspecific appraisal of the social intelligence hypothesis. PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 373(1756).  Author URL.
Woods RD, Kings M, McIvor GE, Thornton A (2018). Caller characteristics influence recruitment to collective antipredator events in jackdaws. Scientific Reports, 8, 7343-7343. Abstract.
Ashton BJ, Ridley AR, Edwards EK, Thornton A (2018). Cognitive performance is linked to group size and affects fitness in Australian magpies. Nature, 554, pages 364-367.
Street SE, Morgan TH, Thornton A, Brown GR, Laland KN, Cross CP (2018). Human mate-choice copying is domain-general social learning. Scientific Reports, 8, 1715-1715.
Boogert NJ, Madden JR, Morand-Ferron J, Thornton A (2018). Measuring and understanding individual differences in cognition. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 373(1756). Abstract.  Author URL.
Ling H, Mclvor GE, Nagy G, MohaimenianPour S, Vaughan RT, Thornton A, Ouellette NT (2018). Simultaneous measurements of three-dimensional trajectories and wingbeat frequencies of birds in the field. J R Soc Interface, 15(147). Abstract.  Author URL.
McIvor GE, Lee VE, Thornton A (2018). Testing social learning of anti-predator responses in juvenile jackdaws: the importance of accounting for levels of agitation. Royal Society Open Science, 5, 171571-171571. Abstract.
Mesoudi AA, Thornton A (2018). What is cumulative cultural evolution?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Greggor AL, McIvor GE, Clayton NS, Thornton A (2018). Wild jackdaws are wary of objects that violate expectations of animacy. Royal Society Open Science, 5(10). Abstract.
Valletta J, Torney C, Kings M, Thornton A, Madden J (2017). Applications of machine learning in animal behaviour studies. Animal Behaviour
Davidson GL, Thornton A, Clayton NS (2017). Evolution of iris colour in relation to cavity nesting and parental care in passerine birds. Biology Letters, 13, 20160783-20160783.
Greggor AL, McIvor GE, Clayton NS, Thornton A (2016). Contagious risk taking: social information and context influence wild jackdaws' responses to novelty and risk. Sci Rep, 6 Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, McAuliffe K, Dall SRX, Fernandez-Duque E, Garber PA, Young AJ (2016). Fundamental Problems with the Cooperative Breeding Hypothesis. A reply to Burkart & Van Schaik. Journal of Zoology, 299(2), 84-88.
Greggor AL, Thornton A, Clayton NS (2016). Harnessing learning biases is essential for applying social learning in conservation. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 71, 16-16.
Greggor AL, Jolles JW, Thornton A, Clayton NS (2016). Seasonal changes in neophobia and its consistency in rooks: the effect of novelty type and dominance position. Animal Behaviour, 121, 11-20.
Greggor AL, Clayton NS, Fulford AJC, Thornton A (2016). Street smart: faster approach towards litter in urban areas by highly neophobic corvids and less fearful birds. Animal Behaviour, 117, 123-133.
Mesoudi A, Chang L, Dall SRX, Thornton A (2016). The evolution of individual and cultural variation in social learning. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 31(3), 215-225.
Greggor AL, Spencer KA, Clayton NS, Thornton A (2016). Wild jackdaws’ reproductive success and their offspring’s stress hormones are connected to provisioning rate and brood size, not to parental neophobia. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 243, 70-77.
Thornton A, Mcauliffe K (2015). Cognitive consequences of cooperative breeding? a critical appraisal. Journal of Zoology, 295(1), 12-22. Abstract.
Zwirner E, Thornton A (2015). Cognitive requirements of cumulative culture: teaching is useful but not essential. Sci Rep, 5 Abstract.  Author URL.
Aplin LM, Farine DR, Morand-Ferron J, Cockburn A, Thornton A, Sheldon BC (2015). Counting conformity: evaluating the units of information in frequency-dependent social learning. ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 110, E5-E8.  Author URL.
Duffield C, Wilson AJ, Thornton A (2015). Desperate Prawns: Drivers of Behavioural Innovation Vary across Social Contexts in Rock Pool Crustaceans. PLoS One, 10(10). Abstract.  Author URL.
Aplin LM, Farine DR, Morand-Ferron J, Cockburn A, Thornton A, Sheldon BC (2015). Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent culture via conformity in wild birds. Nature, 518(7540), 538-541. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Wilson AJ (2015). In search of the Darwinian Holy Trinity in cognitive evolution: a comment on Croston et al. Behavioral Ecology, 26(6), 1460-1461.
Greggor AL, Thornton A, Clayton NS (2015). Neophobia is not only avoidance: Improving neophobia tests by combining cognition and ecology. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 6, 82-89. Abstract.
Thornton A, Raihani NJ (2015). The proximate-ultimate confusion in teaching and cooperation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38 Abstract.
Mcauliffe K, Thornton A (2015). The psychology of cooperation in animals: an ecological approach. Journal of Zoology, 295(1), 23-35. Abstract.
Davidson GL, Clayton NS, Thornton A (2015). Wild jackdaws, Corvus monedula, recognize individual humans and may respond to gaze direction with defensive behaviour. Animal Behaviour, 108, 17-24. Abstract.
Greggor AL, Clayton NS, Phalan B, Thornton A (2014). Comparative cognition for conservationists. Trends Ecol Evol, 29(9), 489-495. Abstract.  Author URL.
Davidson GL, Butler S, Fernández-Juricic E, Thornton A, Clayton NS (2014). Gaze sensitivity: Function and mechanisms from sensory and cognitive perspectives. Animal Behaviour, 87(C), 3-15. Abstract.
Thornton A (2014). How and why are some species so smart? a comment on Rowe and Healy. Behavioral Ecology, 25(6), 1294-1295.
Zandberg L, Jolles JW, Boogert NJ, Thornton A (2014). Jackdaw nestlings can discriminate between conspecific calls but do not beg specifically to their parents. Behavioral Ecology, 25(3), 565-573. Abstract.
Davidson GL, Clayton NS, Thornton A (2014). Salient eyes deter conspecific nest intruders in wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Biol Lett, 10(2). Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Isden J, Madden JR (2014). Toward wild psychometrics: Linking individual cognitive differences to fitness. Behavioral Ecology, 25(6), 1299-1301. Abstract.
Greggor AL, Clayton NS, Phalan B, Thornton A (2014). Translating cognitive insights into effective conservation programs: reply to Schakner et al. Trends Ecol Evol, 29(12), 652-653.  Author URL.
Jolles JW, King AJ, Manica A, Thornton A (2013). Heterogeneous structure in mixed-species corvid flocks in flight. Animal Behaviour, 85(4), 743-750. Abstract.
Thornton A, Clayton NS, Grodzinski U (2012). Animal minds: from computation to evolution. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 367(1603), 2670-2676.  Author URL.
McAuliffe K, Thornton A (2012). How do banded mongooses locate and select anvils for cracking encased food items?. BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES, 90(3), 350-356.  Author URL.
Hoppitt W, Samson J, Laland KN, Thornton A (2012). Identification of Learning Mechanisms in a Wild Meerkat Population. PLOS ONE, 7(8).  Author URL.
Thornton A, Lukas D (2012). Individual variation in cognitive performance: developmental and evolutionary perspectives. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 367(1603), 2773-2783. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Samson J (2012). Innovative problem solving in wild meerkats. Animal Behaviour, 83(6), 1459-1468. Abstract.
Raihani NJ, Thornton A, Bshary R (2012). Punishment and cooperation in nature. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 27(5), 288-295. Abstract.
Thornton A, McAuliffe K (2012). Teaching can teach us a lot. Animal Behaviour, 83(4).
Thornton A, Clutton-Brock T (2011). Social learning and the development of individual and group behaviour in mammal societies. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 366(1567), 978-987. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Raihani NJ (2010). Identifying teaching in wild animals. LEARNING & BEHAVIOR, 38(3), 297-309.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Samson J, Clutton-Brock T (2010). Multi-generational persistence of traditions in neighbouring meerkat groups. Proc Biol Sci, 277(1700), 3623-3629. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Malapert A (2009). Experimental evidence for social transmission of food acquisition techniques in wild meerkats. Animal Behaviour, 78(2), 255-264. Abstract.
Hodge SJ, Thornton A, Flower TP, Clutton-Brock TH (2009). Food limitation increases aggression in juvenile meerkats. BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 20(5), 930-935.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Hodge SJ (2009). The development of foraging microhabitat preferences in meerkats. BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 20(1), 103-110.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Malapert A (2009). The rise and fall of an arbitrary tradition: an experiment with wild meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1660), 1269-1276. Abstract.
Thornton A, Malapert A (2009). The rise and fall of an arbitrary tradition: an experiment with wild meerkats. Proc Biol Sci, 276(1660), 1269-1276. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A (2008). Early body condition, time budgets and the acquisition of foraging skills in meerkats. Animal Behaviour, 75(3), 951-962. Abstract.
Hoppitt WJE, Brown GR, Kendal R, Rendell L, Thornton A, Webster MM, Laland KN (2008). Lessons from animal teaching. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 23(9), 486-493. Abstract.
Thornton A (2008). Social learning about novel foods in young meerkats. Animal Behaviour, 76(4), 1411-1421. Abstract.
Thornton A, Raihani NJ (2008). The evolution of teaching. Animal Behaviour, 75(6), 1823-1836. Abstract.
Thornton A (2008). Variation in contributions to teaching by meerkats. Proc Biol Sci, 275(1644), 1745-1751. Abstract.  Author URL.
Thornton A, Raihani NJ, Radford AN (2007). Teachers in the wild: some clarification. TRENDS IN COGNITIVE SCIENCES, 11(7), 272-273.  Author URL.
Thornton A, McAuliffe K (2006). Kalahari classrooms: How meerkats teach pups to hunt. Planet Earth(WINTER 2006), 20-21. Abstract.
Thornton A, McAuliffe K (2006). Teaching in wild meerkats. SCIENCE, 313(5784), 227-229.  Author URL.


Arbon JJ, Thornton A (2024). Social Learning and Culture in Mammals. In  (Ed) The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Evolution, Oxford University Press (OUP).
Greggor AL, Thornton A (2021). Convergent Evolution of Intelligence. In  (Ed) Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science, Springer Nature, 1427-1434.
Lee VE, Greggor AL, Thornton A (2021). Social Learning in Birds. In  (Ed) The Cambridge Handbook of Animal Cognition, Cambridge University Press (CUP), 503-533.
Thornton A, Boogert NJ (2019). The nature and nurturing of animal minds. In Hosken DJ, Hunt J, Wedell N (Eds.) Genes and Behaviour Beyond Nature-Nurture, Wiley, 181-201.
Thornton A (2018). Meerkats - identifying cognitive mechanisms underlying meerkat coordination and communication: Experimental designs in their natural habitat: Communication and cognition in the mongoose family. In  (Ed) Field and Laboratory Methods in Animal Cognition: a Comparative Guide, 302-303.
Greggor AL, Thornton A (2016). Convergent evolution of animal intelligence. In Shackleford TA, Weekes-Shackleford VA (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science, Springer International Publishing, 1-7.
Thornton A, Clutton-Brock T (2012). Social learning and the development of individual and group behaviour in mammal societies. In Whiten A, Hinde RA, Stringer CB, Laland KN (Eds.) Culture Evolves, Oxford University Press, USA, 71-87.


Dong S, Das S, Townley S, Thornton A (2023). Swarm Intelligence Based Drone Flocking Model. 2023 28th International Conference on Automation and Computing (ICAC). 30th Aug - 1st Sep 2023.
Nagy G, Thornton A, Ling H, McIvor G, Ouellette NT, Vaughan R (2019). Computational and Structural Advantages of Pairwise Flocking. Abstract.

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External Engagement and Impact

Editorial responsibilities

Reviews Editor for Animal Behaviour.

Past editorial board: Animal Behaviour, Frontiers in Comparative Psychology, Scientific Reports, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Faculty member: Faculty Opinions

Reviewer for journals including: Animal Behaviour, Animal Cognition, Behavioral Ecology, Current Biology, Ecology Letters, Ethology, Nature, Nature Communications, Nature Human Behaviour, PlosOne, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, PNAS.

Grant reviewer for the Leverhulme Trust, BBSRC, Royal Society, National Science Foundation (USA); NERC; United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation; Vienna Science and Technology Fund.

Member of the Expert Working Group on Culture and Social Complexity within the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species.

Invited lectures

I have given invited seminars at >30 universities around the world, including the universities of Harvard, Edinburgh, Groningen, Keio and Zurich and the Max Planck institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

Media Coverage

My research has attracted media attention around the world, with coverage including Science, National Geographic, The New York Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Enquirer, National Public Radio (USA), The Times (London), The Daily Telegraph, New Scientist, Arte, Canadian Broadcasting Company, BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service.

Workshops/Conferences organised

Co-organiser (with Elli Leadbeater): "Selection Shapes Animal Cognition" symposium, Behaviour 2023 conference, Bielefeld, Germany.

Co-organiser (with Uri Grodzinski and Nicki Clayton) of a major Royal Society Meeting, "Animal Minds: from Computation to Evolution" and associated Kavli Centre satellite meeting "Theories of Minds: the Theoretical Bases of Comparative Cognition".

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I coordinate the year 3 module ‘Animal Cogntion’ and teach on the Human-Wildlife Coexistence field course and on Development of Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology in year 2.



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Supervision / Group

Postdoctoral researchers

Postgraduate researchers

Research Technicians

  • Devi Whittle Project Administrator, Cultural Minds project


  • Gabrielle Davidson (PhD 2010-2013, Cambridge, with Nicky Clayton) Gaze following in jackdaws
  • Alison Greggor (PhD 2012-2015, Cambridge, with Nicky Clayton) Neophobia and innovation in wild jackdaws
  • Jolle Jolles BBSRC Research Assistant, Cambridge
  • Michael Kings (2013-2017, Exeter, co-supervised by Andy Radford, Bristol) Cooperation, cognition and culture in wild jackdaws
  • Rebecca Pearce (MPhil Cambridge, 2012) Social organisation and decision-making in wild jackdaws
  • Richard Woods
  • Lies Zandberg (MSc Wageningen, 2012) Individual recognition in jackdaws

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Office Hours:

Monday: 10-11

Tuesday: 10-11

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