I trained originally in animal behavior (1978 B.S., Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell), classical ethology (University of Vienna, 1976) and behavioral ecology (1983 M.A., 1987 Ph.D., Biology, Princeton). As a postdoc, I studied animal cognition, evolutionary anthropology and behavioral neuroscience with NATO, NSF and NIMH fellowships at the Universities of Toronto, Pittsburgh and Utah. I joined Berkeley as an Assistant Professor in 1993, where I am now a Professor in Psychology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.
Our work synthesizes concepts from ecology, animal behavior, cognitive science and neuroscience in order to understand the evolution of universal cognitive traits, such as spatial memory and navigation.
How did brains evolve? I have proposed that brains evolved in response to the problem of mapping space using smells, using a parallel map architecture (Jacobs, 2012). This work built on my insights from studying hippocampal evolution (parallel map theory; Jacobs & Schenk, 2003). Currently I am developing the PROUST (perceiving and recalling odor utility in space and time) hypothesis: a thesis to explain how the two major olfactory systems radiated in response to the conflict between olfaction and respiration in terrestrial vertebrates (Jacobs, in prep).
We also study behavior in the flesh - specifically, the wild squirrels on the Berkeley campus. Our behavioral economic analyses of squirrel foraging - their eat or cache decisions, the creation of annual cache maps - serves as a paradigm to understand memory and decision processes in semi-natural habitats, e.g., an introduced squirrel species living in an urban park. We are currently funded by the Army Research Office in a 5-year MURI grant with engineers, neuroscientists and mathematicians to model the development and expression of cognition and decision processes squirrels, to inform the blue sky goal of creating the world’s first robotic squirrel.