Dr. Valeria Mazza

Valeria Mazza during fieldwork
Foto: M. L. Lührs
Valeria Mazza during fieldwork
Foto: M. L. Lührs





Major Research Interests

  • Individual differences in animal personality and cognition
  • Cognitive and behavioural adjustments to challenging environments

My research focuses on the interplay between cognitive traits and behavioural differences, their proximate causes and evolutionary consequences. Consistent between-individual differences are found in most areas of biological research, and appear to constrain animals’ plasticity and the possibility to respond optimally to environmental challenges.

During my doctoral studies I investigated whether individual differences in cognition, behaviour and physiology are linked, and whether individuals that present different profiles display ecologically-relevant differences that might affect their fitness.

My current project is aimed at identifying the key functional traits of individuals that meet the challenges created by urban environments. Individual variation can drive and constrain animals’ adaptations to human-induced rapid environmental changes (HIREC). Behavioural and cognitive adaptations are likely to play a major role in coping with anthropogenic change because behaviour largely determines how individuals interact with their surroundings. Also, behavioural responses typically occur faster, and are more rapidly reversible, than other responses to environmental change. Ongoing fast urbanisation provides a natural laboratory in which to improve our understanding of the functional role of behaviour for responses to HIREC, as well as the role humans play in eco-evolutionary dynamics.  Characterizing traits that enable successful species to thrive in urban habitats might therefore help to illuminate the determinants of successful adaptation to human-altered environments and rapidly-changing conditions, as well as allowing more effective mitigation strategies of the impact on anthropogenic destruction. 

Using small mammals as model species, I test for between-individual differences in risk-taking and exploration behaviour, behavioural and cognitive flexibility, space use and spatial skills along a gradient from rural to urban environmental conditions with varying degrees of anthropogenic influences. Thereafter I investigate the drivers of these adjustments.

This work is part of the Collaborative Project “Bridging in Biodiversity Science” (BIBS). https://www.bbib.org/rural-urban-coupling.html


Academic Career

Since 2020      Assistant lecturer/ Postdoctoral researcher, Animal Ecology, Institute for Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam

2018 – 2020    Postdoctoral researcher, Animal Ecology, Institute for Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam. Project
                            “Bridging in Biodiversity Science” (BIBS)

2017 – 2018    Research assistant (Hi-Wi) , Animal Ecology, Institute for Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam

2014 – 2017    Doctoral studies, Animal Ethology and Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Florence (Italy)

2007 – 2009    Master’s degree in Animal Conservation and Biodiversity (Biology), University of Turin (Italy)

2004 – 2007    Bachelor’s degree in Biology, University of Turin (Italy)



Mazza V, Dammhahn M, Lösche E, Eccard JA(2020) Small mammals in the big city: Behavioural adjustments of non‐commensal rodents to urban environments. Global Change Biology 26(11):6326-37. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15304

Dammhahn M, Mazza V, Schirmer A, Göttsche C, Eccard JA. (2020) Of city and village mice: behavioural adjustments of striped field mice to urban environments. Scientific reports 2020 10(1):1-12. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-69998-6

Mazza V, Dammhahn M, Eccard J A, Palme R., Zaccaroni M., & Jacob J. (2019) Coping with style: individual differences in responses to environmental variation. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 73:142, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00265-019-2760-2

Mazza V, Jacob J, Dammhahn M, Zaccaroni M, & Eccard JA (2019) Individual variation in cognitive style reflects foraging and anti-predator strategies in a small mammal. Scientific Reports 9:10157, www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-46582-1

Dell'Agnello F, Martini M, Mori E, Mazza G, Mazza V, & Zaccaroni, M (2019) Winter activity rhythms of a rodent pest species in agricultural habitats. Mammal Research 65(4), https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13364-019-00443-4

Mazza V, Eccard JA, Zaccaroni M, Jacob J, & Dammhahn M(2018) The fast and the flexible: cognitive style drives individual variation in cognition in a small mammal. Animal Behaviour 137(1), www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347218300253

Dell’Agnello F, Mazza V, Martini M, Bertolino S, Capizzi D, Riga F, & Zaccaroni M (2018) Trap type and positioning: how to trap Savi’s pine voles using the tunnel system. Mammalia 82(4),  https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/mamm.2018.82.issue-4/mammalia-2017-0005/mammalia-2017-0005.xml

Dell'Agnello F, Barfknecht R, Bertolino S, Capizzi D, Martini M, Mazza V, Riga F, & Zaccaroni M (2018) Consistent demographic trends in Savi's pine vole between two distant areas in central Italy. Folia Zoologica 67(1), https://bioone.org/journals/Folia-Zoologica/volume-67/issue-1/fozo.v67.i1.a3.2018/Consistent-demographic-trends-in-Savis-pine-vole-between-two-distant/10.25225/fozo.v67.i1.a3.2018.full

Ranchelli E, Barfknecht R, Capizzi D, Riga F, Mazza V, Dell'Agnello F, & Zaccaroni M (2016) From biology to management of Savi's pine vole (Microtus savii). Pest Management Science 72(5), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ps.4212