I am a behavioural ecologist with a particular interest in how we can use animals’ behaviour to gain insights into the cognitive mechanisms that underlie that behaviour. All behaviour is mediated by processes in the brain and by carefully examining the outputs of these processes (the behaviour itself), particularly the kinds of mistakes animals make when things go awry, we can deduce a lot about what form they take.
I am currently working on an ERC funded project, in collaboration with Rothamsted Research, in which we are using harmonic radar technology (http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/radar-entomology-unit) to investigate the spatial movements of important pollinator species, particularly bumblebees (Bombus terrestris audax). Little is currently known about the details of pollinator movements in a field setting because of the difficulties in tracking small animals over a large range. We will use the harmonic radar to discover the rules that govern bees search strategies’, what information they extract from their surroundings to guide navigation and the mechanisms by which they remember useful locations.
I am especially interested in how bees acquire directional information and form route memories that allow them to learn complex and efficient paths between multiple feeding sites, and how they balance the exploitation of known resources with the need to explore their surroundings to find new sources of food. We are also using the radar technology to discover more about the relatively little understood behaviour of bumblebee males and queens. These have to balance the need to find food with that of successfully finding a mate, and queens must also find a suitable place to hibernate over winter and a place to found a new colony in the spring, but currently little is known about the rules that govern their search strategies.
My previous postdoctoral work has involved looking at what directional information wood ants (Formica rufa) can extract from the panoramic skyline, and what cognitive rules they use to remember the locations of particular feeding sites, in collaboration with Professor Tom Collett and Dr Paul Graham. I have also set up a project, with Professor Andy Bennett, looking at behavioural responses of birds to bushfire in Australia. My PhD work at Cardiff University, under the supervision of Dr Kate Buchanan and Professor Andy Bennett, looked at the long-term effects of the early rearing environment on the brain development and singing behaviour of male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), and on the mate choice behaviour of females.