Our research has been or is currently funded by ASAB, AXA Research Fund, BBSRC, NERC, The Centre for Ecology and Evolution (London), The Royal Society, The Royal Veterinary College (London), and Swansea University. Research is undertaken with a variety of collaborators within and outside of Swansea, and can be categorised under four broad themes:
Studying social behaviour is hard, because you tend to see interactions between only a few individuals at a time. SHOAL develop tools that enable real-time tracking of social animals in both aquatic and terrestrial systems and provide "whole-system" information. This work tends to produce lots of data which can be difficult to interpret, and so we rely on modelling methodologies and statistical fitting to better understand these data. Read about some of our work using GPS backpacks to study sheep collective motion in Science, BBC, and Scientific American.
Groups that are composed of dissimilar individuals have an increased potential for diversity in social structure and social roles. We explore the evolutionary basis and ecological consequences of heterogeneity in social systems, studying fish and birds in the laboratory, and human groups in a variety of social domains. It is hoped that this research will be of use to those interested in maximising the performance of a variety of teams – from teams of humans in a corporate setting, to teams of autonomous grouping robots. You can also hear about a past NERC funded project on this topic in this Planet Earth Podcast, and read articles in The Economist, and Discover Magazine.
We study the organisation of behavioural states relative to each other in time and space. This enables us to ask questions about how individuals coordinate their behaviour within a social group, but also how different groups (of the same or different species) coordinate their behaviour with one another. We then use this knowledge to understand how changes to the environment influence social contact patterns and mixing in social networks, and consequently transmission of information (or diseases). Most recently, we are adopting this approach to examine how ocean acidification effects interaction of marine fish in the laboratory.
How does a group of individuals collectively decide upon a particular action, and when can a leader steer the action of an entire group? To answer these questions, we study a variety of species in both the field and in the laboratory. We are particularly interested in what traits predict leadership, and whether leaders are born, or if they are made. You can learn more about our work on leadership in social birds from former PhD student Leah in this video, and about primate leadership in this New Scientist article.