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Maria Vilain Rørvang

Maria Vilain Rörvang
Researcher at the Department of Biosystems and Technology, animal group.


I have a Masters degree in Agrobiology and a PhD in Animal Science and work mainly on research questions related to animal housing, behaviour and welfare. I am interested in how animals perceive and interact with their physical and social environment. My research focus is in particular the motivations of animals and their cognitive capacities, which I aim will ultimately improve the housing systems and management, as well as enhance the enjoyment of humans and animals working/living together.

I am a member of international societies  within my area of research (e.g. ISAE and ISES) and I also collaborate with various private companies in my work.

I am situated at SLUs campus in Alnarp.

I have a huge passion for nature and animals and use most of my spare time hiking and photographing.


I am engaged in various research projects concerning animal housing and animal welfare including pigs, cows, poultry and horses. The basis of my research is studying interactions between the animals and their housing systems in order to optimize the systems and the management routines for the behavior and motivations of the animals while also considering the human and environmental perspectives. All in all this ensures animal welfare and an efficient and competitive production.

Examples of projects:


  • Bachelor in Biology (Animal Physiology and Ethology)
  • Masters degree in Agrobiology (Animal Physiology and Ethology)
  • PhD in Animal Science

Selected publications

  1. Rørvang, M. V., Nielsen, T. B., Christensen, J. W., 2020. Horses Failed to Learn from Humans by Observation. Animals, 10(2), 221. Link:

    Highlights a) This study seeks to investigate if horses can learn to solve an instrumental task of opening a box, by observing human demonstration. We control for social transmission mechanisms, which require lower cognitive complexity than actual social learning.
    b) Horses watching the full and partial demonstrations were not more successful in solving the task than horses receiving no human demonstration. Horses that were unsuccessful showed more human- and box-oriented behavior than successful horses, which can indicate motivation to solve the task and/or frustration from being unable to solve the task. Our study suggest that the horses did not benefit from human demonstration of how to open a box to find food.

  2. Rørvang, M. V., Nielsen, B. L., McLean, A. N., 2020. Sensory Abilities of Horses and Their Importance for Equitation Science. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7:633. Link:

    Highlights: a) Horses and humans share the five most common sensory modalities, however, their ranges and capacities differ, so that horses are unlikely to perceive their surroundings in a similar manner to humans.
    b) This review aims to provide an overview of the current knowledge on the sensory abilities of horses. The information is discussed within an evolutionary context and also includes a practical perspective, outlining potential ways to mitigate risks of injuries and enhance positive horse-human interactions.
    Media: see the interview with Andrew McLean in the FB group: “Coffee with horse lovers”, and a written interview in the Danish horse magazine “Ridehesten” in the dec 2020 volume.

  3. Christensen, J. W., Munk, R., Hawson, L., Palme, R., Larsen, T., Egenvall, A., König von Borstel, U. U., Rørvang, M. V., 2020 (in press) Rider effects on (and relationship between) horses' conflict behaviour, rein tension, physiological measures and rideability scores. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

    Highlights: a) Professional riders did not agree on rideability scores for dressage horses, b) Horses displaying more conflict behaviour received lower scores, c) Riders significantly affected rein tension, horse heart rates and cortisol levels and d) Rideability scores are probably not a reliable trait for sports horse evaluations.

  4. Rørvang, M. V., Nawroth, C., 2020 (in press). CH02 - Advances in understanding cognition and learning in cattle. In: Understanding the behaviour and improving the welfare of dairy cattle (ed. Prof Marcia Endres). Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing.

    Highlights: a) Understanding the cognitive capacities of cattle is central when designing husbandry environments and developing handling regimes. In this chapter, we outline the current knowledge on cattle learning and cognition, with special emphasis on their socio-cognitive capacities.
    b) By using their cognitive capacities in the conceptualisation of handling regimes, we may further ensure a safer work environment for handlers whilst at the same time safeguard the welfare of the animals.

Publications list: