Our research has been or is currently funded by NERC, BBSRC, The Royal Society, AXA Research Fund, The Centre for Ecology and Evolution (London), The Royal Veterinary College (London), and Swansea University, and can be categorised under four broad themes:
It is possible to infer certain rules or strategies that animals use in social settings, but unless we can manipulate the behaviour of individuals such research remains largely descriptive. Working with a number of colleagues (see below) we are developing apparatus for real-time tracking of social animals allowing perturbation of the environment that enables us to decouple behavioural strategies and individual pay-offs. Read about our work on tracking sheep flocking with GPS backpacks covered by Science, BBC, The Los Angeles Times and Scientific American.
What makes a winning team? Larger groups of individuals are expected to make more accurate decisions since they can draw upon information from many individuals, and may have an increased potential for diversity and specialisation of individuals. We explore how group size, and diversity of individual traits translates to variation in collective performance, and study 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. PhD student Diamanto conducts lab-based experiments within this research theme. You can also hear about our NERC funded project on this topic in this Planet Earth Podcast, and read articles in The Economist, and Discover Magazine.
We study the arrangement 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 (via natural or anthropogenic changes) influence social contact patterns and mixing in social networks, and consequently transmission of information and diseases within micro- and macro-populations. PhD students Caspian, Gaëlle and Hannah conduct field-based projects working within this research theme. Most recently, we are adopting this approach to examine how ocean acidification (via elevated carbon dioxide levels) disrupts schooling and interaction in 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 groups composed of individuals with very similar motivations (e.g. fish shoals, sheep flocks) or very different motivations (e.g. baboon troops), working 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. Wherever possible, we also use our findings to inform conservation science (e.g. management of primate populations in conflict with humans) and work with cognitive and evolutionary psychologists to better understand the evolution of leadership and decision-making of human groups. 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 and BBC Wildlife magazine feature.
Our research is undertaken with collaborators in various institutions, including: