Dr. Nancy Kohn Joins Cottey’s Biology Department

Do salamanders have social lives? Do they remember? Do they learn? Do they ever invite the whole extended family over for an old-fashioned salamander shindig?

Cottey’s newest biology professor can answer all those questions — and more. Dr. Nancy Kohn’s expertise lies in animal social behavior and cognition, and how their social interactions impact learning and memory.

Dr. Kohn is especially knowledgeable about the red-backed salamander, since she studied with one of the world’s foremost researchers on salamander behavior: Dr. Robert Jaeger. Together with a few of her colleagues, Dr. Kohn co-authored a book with Dr. Jaeger that summarizes his lab’s fifty years of research.

“I was his last graduate student,” Dr. Kohn says. As his retirement drew near, colleagues urged Dr. Jaeger to write a book. Dr. Kohn volunteered to help make it happen. “And the organization of the book happened on his front porch.”

Published by Oxford University press in 2016, Behavioral Ecology of the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander: 50 Years of Research can answer all your questions about salamanders’ social skills… and probably more.

Salamanders aren’t the only target of Dr. Kohn’s study. She’s also worked with guppies — “I had a lot of fish to try to jump out of the fish tank” — as well as fruit flies, who also have social interactions and can learn from each other. “With fruit flies, the physical environment is really important, and how they act also depends on the time of day,” Dr. Kohn explains.

Dr. Kohn has always been interested in the natural world. She says her interest in science began when she was young, as she loved to go outside and explore. At Cottey, the Environmental Studies Area in Radio Springs Park will offer a whole new ecosystem for Dr. Kohn and her students to examine.

This fall semester, Dr. Kohn will be teaching Intro to Ecology and Intro to Botany Through Art — a brand new course offering at Cottey! Dr. Kohn is a practicing artist herself, and her undergraduate double-major in biology and fine art provided her with the perfect background to teach aspiring botanical artists the ropes.

“I tend to study animals… and draw and paint plants,” Dr. Kohn says. The convenient thing about drawing plants, she observes, is that “they’re much better about sitting still.”

After completing undergrad at Albright College, Dr. Kohn obtained her masters at St. Louis University and her doctorate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She also completed postdocs at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) in Gir sur Yvette, France. Her research has been published in Current Zoology and PLOS one. She joins Cottey as an Assistant Professor of Biology.

In her spare time Dr. Kohn enjoys cooking, gardening, and spoiling Katy, her well-traveled cat.


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