ABC Team Members

Principal Investigator

Giorgio Vallortigara    

Spatial cognition in the avian brain and rodent brain. I am interested in the mechanisms underlying use of geometry in spatial navigation. I use domestic chicks, mice and rats  as systems model and a combination of behavioural and neurobiological methods. Number cognition, using operant and imprinting techniques in frogs, some species of corvids, and domestic chicks. The research work involves investigation of both cardinal and ordinal aspects of number. We also plan to investigate intuitive notions of probability in animals (in chicks and non-human primates). Biological predisposition in recognition of animated objects. The research project involves investigation of phenomena such as biological motion perception and face-like stimuli recognition. We study newly-hatched chicks and human newborns using behavioural techniques and, respectively, immunohistochemistry and NIRS for investigation of the brain areas involved in the biological predispositions.  

Building 14 - Office 4, Second Floor
Phone: +39 0464 808676
E-Mail: giorgio.vallortigara [at]

Post-doctoral Fellows

Judit Abdai

I am interested in social behaviour and cognition of non-human species. Previously, I studied dog-robot interactions, including dogs’ perception of social agents. In the ABC group, I study the development of animacy perception in zebrafish, using ethological and neurobiological approaches.

Building 14 - Office 2, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808106
E-Mail: judit.abdai [at]

Elisabeth Adam

My research focus is animal behavior and how this behavior is coded in the brain. As a PostDoc at the ABC group I focus on zebrafish (Danio rerio) cognition and neurobiology. In specific I am interested in how numerosity is coded in the fish brain. This I investigate using behavioral as well as advanced molecular and genetic techniques.

Building 14 - Office 3, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808737
E-Mail: elisabeth.adam [at]

Massimo De Agrò

I am interested in the brain simplification solutions of invertebrates. When constrained by a limited number of neurons, brains have to develop clever circuitry to save computational power while maintaining function. My main model species is the jumping spider. Currently, I am supported by the Caritro foundation to better understand how these spider's multi-eyed visual system functions.

Building 14 - Office 2, Second Floor
E-Mail: massimo.deagro [at]

Hiruni Samadi Galpayage Dona

There is increasing evidence that bees are more than mere reflex machines: they are efficient learners, show behavioural flexibility and experience forms of emotions. My interest in bee cognition lies in seeing how far a tiny brain can go to solve relatively complex tasks. For my postdoc at CiMeC, I will be investigating the underlying neural mechanisms of specific cognitive abilities in bees (e.g. numerical abilities). Alongside my scientific research, I am involved in advocating for diversity and inclusion in academia and engaging in science communication

Building 14 - Office 215, Second Floor
E-Mail: hiruni.galpayagedona [at]

Dmitry Kobylkov

I am intersted in a broad range of animal behaviours and their underlying neuronal mechanisms. During my PhD I studied magnetoreception in migratory birds. As a postdoc in the ABC group, I focus on neuronal correlates underlying numerical abilities in domestic chicks.

Building 14 - Office 3, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808736
E-Mail: dmitry.kobylkov [at]

Elena Lorenzi

Comparative developmental neuroethology is my main and broad research interest. Currently, I am focussing my work on unlearned predispositions from a behavioural and neurophysiological perspective. Ranging from molecular biology to MRI techniques, I am studying the newborn brain and behaviour of domestic chicks, with a particular emphasis on number cognition, animacy perception and lateralization.

Building 14 - Office 3, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808737
E-Mail: elena.lorenzi [at]

Andrea Messina  

I am a Developmental Biologist with a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Pharmacology and Toxicology. My research interests keep on focusing on nervous system development and neurodegenerative disorders using frog, fish and mouse as animal models. I am currently applying my skills on a project finalized to “Imaging the neurobiology of numerosity” in fish and to establish the ability of zebrafish (Danio rerio) to discriminate numerosity.

Building 14 - Office 3, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808737
E-Mail: andrea.messina [at]


Anastasia Morandi Raikova  

I am fascinated by the diverse spectrum of animal behaviours and the intricate neuronal processes that govern them. As a postdoc in the ABC group, my primary emphasis lies in exploring the evolutionary mechanisms, developmental processes, and critical periods that contribute to effective neural coding in young domestic chicks.

Building 14 - Office 215, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808748
E-Mail: a.morandiraikova [at]

Sarah Placì

I am interested in the cognitive tools animals – including humans – evolved to deal with the uncertainty of their physical and social environment, and in how these cognitive tools help them learn and make rational decisions. As a postdoctoral fellow in the ABC group, I investigate whether newly-hatched chicks can compute basic probabilities to predict outcomes of uncertain events.

Building 14 
E-Mail: sarah.placi [at]



Orsola Rosa Salva

I am conducting investigations of domestic chicks’ early social predispositions for specific motion properties that characterize animate objects. The domestic chick is an optimal developmental model for the study of social predispositions, since it can be tested in the absence of any visual experience. Toghether with Dr. Uwe Mayer, I am investigating the neural substrate of the already established social-predispositions of our animal model. In order to do so we analyze brain activity by staining the transcription factor c-Fos with a immunohistochemical procedure. I am also collaborating with Dr. Elisa Di Giorgio and Dr. Elisa Frasnelli to record indexes of early visual attention for social stimuli in newborn infants at high risk for autism (NIDA network, PI Dr. Maria Luisa Scattoni).

Building 14 - Office 2, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808106
E-Mail: orsola.rosasalva [at]

Mirko Zanon

I merge my physics background with an interest in neuroscience, nature and biology. I take care of the computational aspects of different research in our group, programming various tools to perform, improve and facilitate behavioural experiments or neurobiological data analysis. In particular I'm involved in studies about numerical competences in animals (chicks and fish).

Building 14 - Office 214, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808648
E-Mail: mirko.zanon [at]

Doctoral Candidates

Elena Eccher

I've always been interested in understanding what is innate in the human mind, and for this reason, I decided to focus my research interests on newborns’ and infants' minds and brain development. I learned to use different techniques (EEG, and behavioural observations) and specifically how to apply them with very young subjects. I am also currently collaborating with Dr Orsola Rosa Salva to investigate cross-modal numerical correspondence in newborn chicks.

Building 14 - Office 215, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808743
E-Mail: elena.eccher-1 [at]

Matilde Perrino

I'm a PhD student working on how zebrafish discriminate the size of groups, either conspecifics or preys and neural circuits involved. My main interests are neurobiology in general, ethology and computational models. I also like philosophy and discussion on theoretical issues in (neuro)science.

Building 14 - Office 208, Second Floor
E-Mail: matilde.perrino [at]

Alessandra Gobbo

As a PhD student in the ABC group, I'm investigating whether brain asymmetries affect the ability of zebrafish (Danio rerio) to discriminate continuous and discrete quantities. To do so, I'm combining genetic and biomolecular studies with behavioural assays. I'm interested in neuroscience and neurobiology, with a focus on fish cognition.

Building 14 - Common Area, First Floor
E-Mail: alessandra.gobbo-1 [at]

Visiting Scientists

Toshiya Matsushima

Toshiya Matsushima

Hokkaido University, Faculty of Science, Department of Biology, Behavioural Neurobiology Lab (Professor Emeritus)
Health Science University of Hokkaido, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Clinical Toxicology Lab (Visiting Scientist)

What are we, humans? This simple question of my youth has been driving my life-long scientific interests and career. Initially this led me to tackle lower vertebrates such as toads, salmons and lampreys. Through my first 10 years of struggle, seeking what we used to be during the last 500 million years, I recognized that CNS of humans (Primate) and lampreys (Agnatha) are composed of same set of molecules constructed on identical design. These are same but definitely different. I therefore redirected myself to birds, as birds constitute the other taxonomic branch toward high faculties, the other way than primates. During my bird era up to today, I have been fascinated by the fashion, in which the newly hatched domestics chicks show human-like rational/irrational behaviours in economical decision making and social challenges. Most recently, I am working on the seemingly classical issues of imprinting, because its impairment shares many features with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) in humans. I am tracking this by using pharmacology, electrophysiology, with some aids of molecular biology of developmental biology. The next step will be the number sense, math logics, and their fundamentals. 

More information and Publications:

Bastien Lemaire

As an ethologist, I dedicate myself to studying social predispositions in vertebrates and invertebrates.
My main research objective is to identify the social signals that animals use to detect the presence of other living organisms in their environment. Currently, my research mostly focuses on the cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, used as a model for understanding cognition and animacy features. I am also interested in the effects of the environment and climate change on the perception and cognition of cuttlefish.
Current position: Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow

Maria Bortot

What can insects do, and why do they do it? These have always been questions driving my research interests in insect cognition. I mainly focused on honeybees’ numerical and learning capacities and their sleeping behavior. However, different environmental stressors might negatively impact the capacity of insects to interact with their environment or perform cognitively demanding tasks. As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turin, I now study the impact of pesticides and biopesticides on complex behaviors and cognition of social and solitary pollinators.

Link to current lab:
Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow (PRIN Grant)


Administrative and Technical Staff of ACN Lab and Animal House

Ciro Petrone

I hold a degree in Medical Biotechnology with a total of nine years research experience. During those years, I gained extensive skills in molecular biology techniques while focusing on stem cells transcriptional regulation. In Italy, at the CNR, I have had the possibility to understand more about embrionyc dopaminergic neuronal differentiation, and after moving abroad I shifted my interests to the adult neurogenesis. There, as research assistant at the Helmholtz Center of Munich, I investigated the role of Dlx transcriptional factors in differentiating neural stem cells and gave my contribution to the first published scientific work that shows, in vitro, how mammalian adult neural stem cells divide asymmetrically. Coming back in Italy I joined the CIMeC in Rovereto providing technical support to the animal house facility and the research activities.

Building 14 - Ground Floor
Phone: 0464 808788
E-Mail: ciro.petrone [at]

Giampaolo Morbioli

Dr. Giampaolo Morbioli - Veterinarian in charge for the animals health status and well-being at the animal facility of CiMeC. Since 1992 I have dealt with Laboratory Animal Medicine, working at the University of Verona for a responsible management of various species used in research (monkeys, rats, mice); from 2012 my interest has extended also to “emerging” species, such as fishes and chicks. I belong to the “Organismo Preposto al Benessere degli Animali” (OPBA), an organism the University of Trento founded in order to comply with the Italian legislation on animal testing (D.L. vo 26/2014). I collaborate with CiMeC researchers for the drafting and presentation of experimental projects which make use of laboratory animals. As designed veterinarian (D.L. vo. 26/2012) I’m the spokesman of CiMeC with the competent health authorities: APPTS and the Minister of Health.

Building 14 - Ground Floor
Phone: 0464 808788
E-Mail: giampaolo.morbioli [at]

Tommaso Pecchia

I worked as a doctoral fellow at the University of Trieste focusing my research activity on spatial behaviour in avian species, particularly domestic chicks and homing pigeons, also investigating brain lateralization associated with navigation and spatial cognition. After a post-doctoral experience in the same research area, I moved here in Rovereto to set up the ACN laboratory and to provide techical and administrative support to researchers.

Building 14 - Office 227, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808719
Fax: 0464 808733
E-Mail: tommaso.pecchia [at]

Grazia Gambardella

A degree in Politics and the following Master in Local Development contributed to my open-minded attitude, as my studies gave me the chance to develop multi-functional skills in many different areas. I come from a long experience in a French multinational company, where I worked in administration and purchasing before been assigned to the control of the final stage of production flow. In CIMeC I am the administrative support at the ACN laboratory.

Building 14 - Office 227, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808712
Fax: 0464 808733
E-Mail: grazia.gambardella [at]

Davide Potrich

In my previous experience, I worked as a postdoctoral fellow at CIMeC focusing my research on studying the cognitive aspects connected to the numerical abilities of several fish species. Currently, in the ACN Lab, I provide technical and administrative support to researchers.

Building 14 - Office 227, Second Floor
Phone: 0464 808719
E-Mail: davide.potrich [at]