7 03 2023

I am on sabbatical, and visiting Australia. While here I am focusing on writing grants and working through papers, but in my spare time have been out and about meeting the local wildlife. Been thrilling to see wild emus, wombats, koalas and echidnas, to name a few. I am currently based in Melbourne visiting Prof. Craig White at Monash University, before heading to Adelaide next week to visit Dr Phill Cassey.

PhD studentship available

14 02 2023

We have a PhD studentship available. Full details are here!

Many animals travel in groups. There are benefits and consequences to group travel, neither of which will be distributed equally among group members. What determines who obtains the most benefits when travelling in a group? One factor could be your physical positioning within the group, but in turn, what dictates where you are positioned? This cost-benefit can be exacerbated in bird flocks, as the animals are moving through a three-dimensional fluid, and having to make decisions and precise movements at immensely high speeds. Positioning could result in you being in energetically advantageous or disadvantageous positions. Previously it has been demonstrated that (a) dominance hierarchies that persist on the ground do not dictate positioning within a flock, and (b) birds within a flock will stop following a previously known leader if they sense that the individual’s knowledge has been compromised. During flight, therefore, birds must be looking to specific individuals to extract information from. Is it your position within a flock, of the degree of information and knowledge you have that will determine how much other birds look to you for movement information? What are the energetic benefits and consequences of such positioning? How many other birds within the flock can actually see you? How do individuals recognise one another? These are pivotal questions for understanding how flock dynamics function and how the flow of information operates within flocks, yet relatively little is known about these factors. This project will use to track each individual’s positioning within a flock and monitor every movement of the body, focusing on wingbeat frequency and amplitude as proxies for work rate. Individual phenotyping will involve behavioural and physiological aspects, and aspects of working memory. Personality testing will include three components typically used to assess individual behavioural traits; boldness/exploration, neophobia and dominance. The key physiological determinant will be basal metabolic rate. These complimentary approaches will ascertain how behavioural or physiological parameters regulate positioning within a flock, and whether they determine leadership tendencies. Social network analyses for both ground- and flight-based scenarios will be used to ascertain which individuals prefer to be beside which. The model species are homing pigeons (Columba livia). Key hypotheses: (i) individuals who spend more time associating with each other on the ground will choose to fly beside each other during travel, (ii) during familiar flights, birds will look to regular known flock members (‘friends’) to receive information on trajectory and heading, largely ignoring the unfamiliar (‘stranger’) birds, (iii) during unfamiliar flights – from novel release sites – individuals will retrieve information on trajectory and heading equally from familiar and unfamiliar birds due to the lack of knowledge about route in any flock members, (iv) alterations of individual appearance will cause all flock-types and manipulations to respond the same as mixing up familiar and stranger birds, as birds are unable to recognise individuals, and (v) birds flying in scenario (ii) will exhibit lower wingbeat frequencies and amplitudes than those in manipulated flocks, suggesting there is a cost to flying with unfamiliar birds.

New paper out in Methods in Ecology and Evolution

8 02 2023

Our new paper is out today in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Titled “Biologically inspired herding of animal groups by robots”, you can read it here!

Work trip to The Hawk Conservancy

2 02 2023

A very enjoyable day with the team at The Hawk Conservancy. Great birds as always.

Lab get together

2 02 2023

Good to have the lab group round for dinner. Cats joined in.

Lab Social

2 12 2022

We had a fun lab away day, involving Moroccan food for lunch, and then an Escape Room we barely escaped from. Congrats also to Jasper, Rana and Ursh on submitting their MSc theses!

Paper accepted in Methods in Ecology and Evolution

18 11 2022

Very happy to have our paper accepted in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, and congratulations Andrew and Marina, who did much of the heavy lifting for the work. This is a reworked version of a group EPSRC grant, and it’s great to have it find the ideal home. It’s all about biologically inspired herding of animal groups by robots. More to follow.

New paper, in Antioxidants

15 11 2022

Congratulations PJ Jacobs and Pretoria mole-rat team for their new paper in Antioxidants, and thanks for including us in the work. All about tissue oxidative ecology along an aridity gradient in a mammalian subterranean species!

Lab visit to The Hawk Conservancy

27 10 2022

A very enjoyable visit to The Hawk Conservancy. Mainly to collect the visual field equipment. But stayed for the birds.

Quick Guide in Current Biology

24 10 2022

Always a pleasure to write about Secretary Birds, so was very happy to be asked to write a Quick Guide on them for Current Biology. It’s a Special Issue focusing on birds, and each contributor got to write a short piece about their favourite bird. I wrote about the first time I saw a wild Rhinoceros Hornbill. You can read the two articles HERE and HERE, respectively.