Johan Lind

Johan Lind


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Works at Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies
Telephone 08-16 27 47
Visiting address Wallenberglaboratoriet, Lilla Frescativägen 7
Room 441
Postal address Centrum för evolutionär kulturforskning 106 91 Stockholm

About me

I am associate professor at Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution and Department of Zoology at Stockholm University. Here I do research and teach in animal and human behavior. 



A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2017. Stefano Ghirlanda, Johan Lind, Magnus Enquist. Royal Society Open Science 4 (6)

    Humans stand out among animals for their unique capacities in domains such as language, culture and imitation, yet it has been difficult to identify cognitive elements that are specifically human. Most research has focused on how information is processed after it is acquired, e.g. in problem solving or 'insight' tasks, but we may also look for species differences in the initial acquisition and coding of information. Here, we show that non-human species have only a limited capacity to discriminate ordered sequences of stimuli. Collating data from 108 experiments on stimulus sequence discrimination (1540 data points from 14 bird and mammal species), we demonstrate pervasive and systematic errors, such as confusing a red-green sequence of lights with green-red and green-green sequences. These errors can persist after thousands of learning trials in tasks that humans learn to near perfection within tens of trials. To elucidate the causes of such poor performance, we formulate and test a mathematical model of non-human sequence discrimination, assuming that animals represent sequences as unstructured collections of memory traces. This representation carries only approximate information about stimulus duration, recency, order and frequency, yet our model predicts non-human performance with a 5.9% mean absolute error across 68 datasets. Because human-level cognition requires more accurate encoding of sequential information than afforded by memory traces, we conclude that improved coding of sequential information is a key cognitive element that may set humans apart from other animals.

  • 2017. Stefano Ghirlanda, Johan Lind. Animal Behaviour 123, 239-247

    Experiments inspired by Aesop's fable The crow and the pitcher have been suggested to show that some birds (rooks, Corvus frugilegus, New Caledonian crows, Corvus moneduloides, and Eurasian jays, Garrulus glandarius) understand cause–effect relationships pertaining to water displacement. For example, the birds may prefer to drop stones in water rather than in sand in order to retrieve a floating food morsel, suggesting that they understand that only the level of water can be so raised. Here we re-evaluate the evidence for causal understanding in all published experiments (23 928 choices by 36 individuals). We first show that commonly employed statistical methods cannot disentangle the birds' initial performance on a task (which is taken as an indicator of causal understanding) from trial-and-error learning that may occur during the course of the experiment. We overcome this shortcoming with a new statistical analysis that quantifies initial performance and learning effects separately. We present robust evidence of trial-and-error learning in many tasks, and of an initial preference in a few. We also show that both seeming demonstrations of causal understanding and of lack of it can be understood based on established properties of instrumental learning. We conclude that Aesop's fable experiments have not yet produced evidence of causal understanding, and we suggest how the experimental designs can be modified to yield better tests of causal cognition.

  • 2017. Johan Lind (et al.). Frontiers in Psychology 8

    Many questions in animal intelligence and cognition research are challenging. One challenge is to identify mechanisms underlying reasoning in experiments. Here, we provide a way to design such tests in non-human animals. We know from research in skill acquisition in humans that reasoning and thinking can take time because some problems are processed in multiple steps before a solution is reached (e.g., during mental arithmetics). If animals are able to learn through similar processes their decision making can be time consuming, and most importantly improve if more time to process information is allowed. We tested if performance of two Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) increased in a two-choice experiment when they were allowed extra time before making their decisions, compared to when they were forced to decide immediately. We found that the performance of the orangutans did not depend on the time they were allowed to process the information before making their decisions. This methodology provides a potential avenue for empirical tests of mechanisms underlying reasoning in non-human animals.

  • 2016. Magnus Enquist, Johan Lind, Stefano Ghirlanda. Royal Society Open Science 3 (11)

    Behaving efficiently (optimally or near-optimally) is central to animals' adaptation to their environment. Much evolutionary biology assumes, implicitly or explicitly, that optimal behavioural strategies are genetically inherited, yet the behaviour of many animals depends crucially on learning. The question of how learning contributes to optimal behaviour is largely open. Here we propose an associative learning model that can learn optimal behaviour in a wide variety of ecologically relevant circumstances. The model learns through chaining, a term introduced by Skinner to indicate learning of behaviour sequences by linking together shorter sequences or single behaviours. Our model formalizes the concept of conditioned reinforcement (the learning process that underlies chaining) and is closely related to optimization algorithms from machine learning. Our analysis dispels the common belief that associative learning is too limited to produce ‘intelligent’ behaviour such as tool use, social learning, self-control or expectations of the future. Furthermore, the model readily accounts for both instinctual and learned aspects of behaviour, clarifying how genetic evolution and individual learning complement each other, and bridging a long-standing divide between ethology and psychology. We conclude that associative learning, supported by genetic predispositions and including the oft-neglected phenomenon of conditioned reinforcement, may suffice to explain the ontogeny of optimal behaviour in most, if not all, non-human animals. Our results establish associative learning as a more powerful optimizing mechanism than acknowledged by current opinion.

  • Article Animal memory
    2015. Johan Lind, Magnus Enquist, Stefano Ghirlanda. Behaviour Analysis Letters 117, 52-58

    We performed a meta-analysis of over 90 data sets from delayed matching-to-sample (DMTS) studies with 25 species (birds, mammals, and bees). In DMTS, a sample stimulus is first presented and then removed. After a delay, two (or more) comparison stimuli are presented, and the subject is rewarded for choosing the one matching the sample. We used data on performance vs. delay length to estimate two parameters informative of working memory abilities: the maximum performance possible with no delay (comparison stimuli presented as soon as the sample is removed), and the rate of performance decay as the delay is lengthened (related to memory span). We conclude that there is little evidence that zero-delay performance varies between these species. There is evidence that pigeons do not perform as well as mammals at longer delay intervals. Pigeons, however, are the only extensively studied bird, and we cannot exclude that other birds may be able to bridge as long a delay as mammals. Extensive training may improve memory, although the data are open to other interpretations. Overall, DMTS studies suggest memory spans ranging from a few seconds to several minutes. We suggest that observations of animals exhibiting much longer memory spans (days to months) can be explained in terms of specialized memory systems that deal with specific, biologically significant information, such as food caches. Events that do not trigger these systems, on the other hand, appear to be remembered for only a short time. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: In Honor of jeriy Hogan.

  • 2014. Stefano Ghirlanda, Magnus Enquist, Johan Lind. Theoretical Population Biology 91, 44-49

    Across many taxa, intriguing positive correlations exist between intelligence (measured by proxy as encephalization), behavioral repertoire size, and lifespan. Here we argue, through a simple theoretical model, that such correlations arise from selection pressures for efficient learning of behavior sequences. We define intelligence operationally as the ability to disregard unrewarding behavior sequences, without trying them out, in the search for rewarding sequences. We show that increasing a species' behavioral repertoire increases the number of rewarding behavior sequences that can be performed, but also the time required to learn such sequences. This trade-off results in an optimal repertoire size that decreases rapidly with increasing sequence length. Behavioral repertoire size can be increased by increasing intelligence or lengthening the lifespan, giving rise to the observed correlations between these traits.

  • 2013. Johan Lind (et al.). Scientific Reports 3, 1785

    Humans have genetically based unique abilities making complex culture possible; an assemblage of traits which we term cultural capacity. The age of this capacity has for long been subject to controversy. We apply phylogenetic principles to date this capacity, integrating evidence from archaeology, genetics, paleoanthropology, and linguistics. We show that cultural capacity is older than the first split in the modern human lineage, and at least 170,000 years old, based on data on hyoid bone morphology, FOXP2 alleles, agreement between genetic and language trees, fire use, burials, and the early appearance of tools comparable to those of modern hunter-gatherers. We cannot exclude that Neanderthals had cultural capacity some 500,000 years ago. A capacity for complex culture, therefore, must have existed before complex culture itself. It may even originated long before. This seeming paradox is resolved by theoretical models suggesting that cultural evolution is exceedingly slow in its initial stages.

  • 2010. Johan Lind, Sven Jakobsson, Cecilia Kullberg. Current Ornithology 17, 1-30
  • 2010. Will Cresswell, Johan Lind, John L. Quinn. Journal of Animal Ecology 79 (3), 556-562

    1. The shape of the function linking predator-attack success rate with distance to predator-concealing cover, or prey refuge, will affect population dynamics, distribution patterns and community trophic structure. Theory predicts that predator-attack success should decline exponentially with distance from predator-concealing cover, resulting in a threshold distance value above which there is little change in risk. Animals should then completely avoid areas of otherwise suitable habitat below this threshold, except when starvation risk exceeds predation risk.

    2. We measured the shape of the function linking attack success with distance from cover in a system of Eurasian Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus attacking (n = 445) and killing (n = 71) Redshanks Tringa totanus. We then determined if there was a threshold value and whether redshanks avoided areas below this threshold.

    3. Sparrowhawk success rate with distance to predator-concealing cover declined exponentially with a threshold value of approximately 30 m. Redshanks used habitat above the threshold according to profitability and only fed below it, on average, in cold weather when starvation risk can be imminently high. Above about 5°C, 26% of available habitat was avoided.

    4. Our data support the hypothesis that predators create discrete areas with respect to cover that are avoided by prey. Large areas of suitable habitat may be unused, except in times of high starvation risk, when such areas may provide a foraging reserve, with large implications for population distribution and dynamics.

    5. Our results are generated from a system in which predators attack their prey from concealing cover. But in the theoretically identical reverse scenario where the prey animal’s distance from protective cover determines predation risk, such non-lethal effects will be equally important, especially in heavily fragmented landscapes.

  • Book Quercus
    2010. Johan Lind.
  • 2009. Johan Lind, Stefano Ghirlanda, Magnus Enquist. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106 (28), E76
  • 2009. Alex Sansom, Johan Lind, Will Cresswell. Behavioral Ecology

    Variation in antipredation behavior should translate into variation in survival. Effective general defenses, such as predator avoidance, decrease the likelihood that an individual is attacked and should therefore reduce selection on behaviors that enhance probability of escape on attack. Escape behaviors become important if animals cannot avoid attack. We investigated the relative effects of avoidance and escape enhancing behaviors on the survival of juvenile redshanks, Tringa totanus, over 2 winters. We predicted that avoidance behavior should be the primary behavioral correlate of survival, but when forced, by starvation risk, into areas where risk of attack is much higher, behaviors that reduce risk of capture once attacked should also promote survival. We found that reducing exposure to attack was most important for increasing survival and that increased vigilance and foraging success rate only increased survival for individuals that spent more time in high-risk areas. Use of the high-risk area and survival varied between years, suggesting that variation in starvation risk (i.e., colder winters) may provide a mechanism for selection on “capture-reducing” antipredation behaviors to be maintained because predator avoidance, the most effective antipredation behavior, is not then possible.

  • 2007. Ross MacLeod (et al.). Ecology Letters 10 (10), 945-955

    In theory, survival rates and consequent population status might be predictable from instantaneous behavioural measures of how animals prioritize foraging vs. avoiding predation. We show, for the 30 most common small bird species ringed in the UK, that one quarter respond to higher predation risk as if it is mass-dependent and lose mass. Half respond to predation risk as if it only interrupts their foraging and gain mass thus avoiding consequent increased starvation risk from reduced foraging time. These mass responses to higher predation risk are correlated with population and conservation status both within and between species (and independently of foraging habitat, foraging guild, sociality index and size) over the last 30 years in Britain, with mass loss being associated with declining populations and mass gain with increasing populations. If individuals show an interrupted foraging response to higher predation risk, they are likely to be experiencing a high quality foraging environment that should lead to higher survival. Whereas individuals that show a mass-dependent foraging response are likely to be in lower quality foraging environments, leading to relatively lower survival.

  • 2006. Jeroen Minderman, Johan Lind, Will Cresswell. Journal of Animal Ecology 75, 713-723
  • 2005. Sami Merilaita, Johan Lind. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences 272, 665-670

    Cryptic prey coloration typically bears a resemblance to the habitat the prey uses. It has been suggested that coloration which visually matches a random sample of the background maximizes background matching. We studied this previously untested hypothesis, as well as another, little studied principle of concealment, disruptive coloration, and whether it could, acting in addition to background matching, provide another plausible means of achieving camouflage. We presented great tits (Parus major) with artificial background-matching and disruptive prey (DP), and measured detection times. First, we studied whether any random sample of a background produces equally good crypsis. This turned out to not be the case. Next, we compared the DP and the best background-matching prey and found that they were equally cryptic. We repeated the tests using prey with all the coloration elements being whole, instead of some of them being broken by the prey outline, but this did not change the result. We conclude that resemblance of the background is an important aspect of concealment, but that coloration matching a random visual sample of the background is neither sufficient nor necessary to minimize the probability of detection. Further, our study lends empirical support to the principle of disruptive coloration.

  • 2005. Johan Lind, Will Cresswell. Behavioral Ecology 16, 945-956

    Any animal whose form or behavior facilitates the avoidance of predators or escape when attacked by predators will have a greater probability of surviving to breed and therefore greater probability of producing offspring (i.e., fitness). Although in theory the fitness consequences of any antipredation behavior can simply be measured by the resultant probability of survival or death, determining the functional significance of antipredation behavior presents a surprising problem. In this review we draw attention to the problem that fitness consequences of antipredation behaviors cannot be determined without considering the potential for reduction of predation risk, or increased reproductive output, through other compensatory behaviors than the behaviors under study. We believe we have reached the limits of what we can ever understand about the ecological effects of antipredation behavior from empirical studies that simply correlate a single behavior with an apparent fitness consequence. Future empirical studies must involve many behaviors to consider the range of potential compensation to predation risk. This is because antipredation behaviors are a composite of many behaviors that an animal can adjust to accomplish its ends. We show that observed variation in antipredation behavior does not have to reflect fitness and we demonstrate that few studies can draw unambiguous conclusions about the fitness consequences of antipredation behavior. Lastly, we provide suggestions of how future research should best be targeted so that, even in the absence of death rates or changes in reproductive output, reasonable inferences of the fitness consequences of antipredation behaviors can be made.

  • 2004. Johan Lind. Journal of Theoretical Biology 231 (2), 223-227

    Migrating birds must accumulate fuel during their journeys and this fuel load should incur an increased risk of predation. Migratory fuelling should increase individual mass-dependent predation risk for two reasons. First, acquisition costs are connected to the increased time a bird must spend foraging to accumulate the fuel loads and the reduced predator detection that accompanies foraging. Second, birds with large fuel loads have been shown to suffer from impaired predator evasion which makes them more vulnerable when actually attacked. Here, I investigate the relative importance of these two aspects of mass-dependent predation risk and I have used published data and a hypothetical situation for a foraging bird to investigate how much migratory fuelling in terms of escape performance and natural variation in predator detection contribute to individual risk during foraging. Results suggest that for birds foraging close to protective cover the negative impact of fuel load on flight performance is very small, whereas variation in time to predator detection is of great importance for a bird's survival. However, the importance of flight performance for predation risk increases as the distance to cover increases. Hence, variation in predator detection (and vigilance) probably influences individual survival much more than migratory fuel load and consequently, to understand risk management during migration studies that focus on vigilance and predator detection during fuelling are much needed

  • 2001. Thord Fransson (et al.). Nature 414, 35-36
  • 2001. Johan Lind, Sven Jakobsson. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Biological Sciences 268 (1479), 1915-1919

    Environmental changes are responsible for the evolution of flexible physiology and the extent of phenotypic plasticity in the regulation of birds' organ size has not been appreciated until recently. Rapid reversible physiological changes during different life–history stages are virtually only known from long–distance migrants, and few studies have focused on less extreme aspects of organ flexibility. During moult, birds suffer from increased wing loading due to wing–area reductions, which may impair flight ability. A previous study found that tree sparrows' escape flight (Passer montanus) is unaffected during moult, suggesting compensatory aptness. We used non–invasive techniques to study physiological adaptations to increased wing loading in tree sparrows. As wing area was reduced during natural moult the ratio of pectoral–muscle size to body mass increased. When moult was completed this ratio decreased. We show experimentally a novel, strategic, organ–flexibility pattern. Unlike the general pattern, where body mass is positively coupled to pectoral–muscle size, tree sparrows responded within 7 days to reductions in wing area by reducing body mass concurrently with an increase in pectoral–muscle size. This rapid flexibility in a non–migratory species probably reflects the paramount importance and long history of flight in birds.

  • 1999. Russell Thorstrom, Johan Lind. Ibis 141 (4), 569-576

    The secretive, endemic Short-legged Ground-Roller Brachypteracias leptosomus was studied from October 1996 to February 1997 on the Masoala Peninsula, northeast Madagascar. Several vocalizations were associated with contact, courtship feeding and food solicitation. One study pair ranged within an area of 19.1 ha and spent 90% of their time together. They used small trees for foraging and resting, and durations of perch time averaged 9.8 min. Of the 229 identified prey items recorded, 88% were invertebrates and 12% vertebrates. The first described nests for this species were observed in December 1996 and January 1997. The first nest was in a natural tree cavity 18.1 m above the ground in a 133-cm diameter-at-breast height (dbh) Weinmannia sp., and it contained at least one egg. This nest failed on 1 January 1997 when a swarm of Honey Bees Apis mellifera took over the cavity. On 7 January, the pair began excavating another nest 22 m above the ground in a 174-cm dbh Canarium madagascarense, in the root mass and decayed material of epiphytes and below a 1 -m diameter forked branch. Incubation lasted between 22–26 days and the nestling period was 30 days. One young fledged in March 1997.

Show all publications by Johan Lind at Stockholm University

Last updated: September 13, 2018

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