In a changing environment, learning and memory are essential for an animal's survival and reproduction. In this way, animal cognition can be considered to underpin much of behavior and behavioral ecology. Our research is aimed at understanding the nature of the interaction between ecology, early experience and cognition. By combining information concerning an animal's sensory and neural capabilities with information about its evolution and its environment we can gain a much better understanding of how and why animals vary in their cognitive abilities and their behavior. From an applied perspective, we can borrow ideas from this approach to investigate animal welfare questions. For example, to determine whether an animal has a capacity to suffer, or to establish the ability for captively reared animals to survive once reintroduced into natural environments.