Scientific Research

I am interested in the sensory ecology of predator-prey interactions. Currently, I am involved in a number of projects that look at visual ecology in coral reef fish. I am always looking for new collaborators and am interested in a wide range of techniques, and topics. Contact me if you want any further information.

  • The comparative visual ecology of predatory animals

This project aims to identify how predator behaviour has shaped the visual systems of  animals. I use a range of techniques, including recording ethological data, dissecting and analysing the eyes and retinas using the wholemount technique, identifying spectral sensitivities using both transcriptomics (genetic techniques) and microspectrophotometry (measuring the absorbance sensitivity of individual rod and cone cells).

Figure 1 three fishies2

  • The diversity of visual systems

The labrids are a very diverse group of fish that comprise both wrasses and parrotfish. Wrasses are predominantly predatory fish, while parrotfish are predominantly algivores or coralivores (they eat coral polyps and/or algae). This family of fish appears to have one of the most diverse visual systems in vertebrates, with some individuals expressing multiple copies of specific visual pigments (the light-sensitive part within the rod/cone cell). My aim is to understand why there is such diversity, how it benefits the animals, and how it is related to their specific ecology i.e. what they are eating, where they live, and what they look like.

Figure 1 Phylogeny

  • How visual systems are related to animal colouration

In addition to studying how animals see, I am also involved in projects that attempt to understand why animals display specific body patterns. This involves intricate image analyses, and behavioural testing to understand what it is the viewer can see, and how changing either the body pattern (through dynamic colouration as seen in fish and cephalopods), or the body-background contrast alters this view. In particular, I have studied highly contrasting disruptive patterns, and their relation to the background from the perspective of a predator; and in contrast, the dynamically-changing colour patterns of a predatory fish, and how these are perceived by prey and conspecifics.