Photo by David Ellifrit, Centre for Whale Research.

David Ellifrit, Centre for Whale Research

Dr Lauren Brent and Professor Darren Croft have found first evidence that one way postreproductively aged killer whales help their family groups is by sharing ecological knowledge.

Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra and Prof Stephen Lea supervised a PhD study that investigated whether magpies are inherently attracted to shiny objects.

Two male guppies harrass a female. Image: Dr Darren Croft, University of Exeter.

Dr Darren Croft, University of Exeter

Dr Safi Darden has led a study that has observed a strategy for females to avoid unwanted male attention: choosing more attractive friends.

Flamingo

Dr Darren Croft is leading a four-year study of flamingo behaviour to explore how their relationships could be key to improving breeding success and the overall welfare of captive flocks.

Bower bird

Dr Joah Madden has led a study that has uncovered the first evidence of a non-human species cultivating plants for use other than as food.

Research interests

Behaviour is a major integrating process because it mediates interactions between animals (including humans ) and their and environments. Understanding these interactions and their evolutionary causes are fundamental goals of the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour.

Our research addresses two fundamental questions:

  1. How and what information is gathered from the physical and social environment?
  2. How is this information used to make decisions in order to maximise survival and reproduction?

The first is the major research goal of Hempel de Ibarra, Collett and Darden whilst the second is that of Brent, Croft, Madden, Lea and Leaver.

We focus on two key areas of behaviour.

Animal cognition, learning and memory

We carry out experimental work on perception, cognition and memory in various species including pigeons, bowerbirds, squirrels, ants and bees. In the lab, the research is mainly focused on pattern recognition and visual discrimination. Unusually, we extend these studies into the field, where we explore how cognitive processes in the wild provide adaptive benefits to individuals in the forms of locating and/or caching food supplies, attracting a mate, determining optimal foraging paths, or learning optimal food choices. This work takes approaches and paradigms established in the cognitive sciences and applies them to novel, natural systems.

Social influences on Individual Behaviour

We conduct observational and experimental work on free-living and captive social animals, including guppies, pheasants, killer whales, bowerbirds, squirrels, fiddler crabs and cattle. The work focuses on how an animal’s social environment shapes an individual’s behaviour, including their sexual behaviour, mate choice, foraging choices and cooperative interactions. The group leads the field in viewing such polyadic interactions as networks within groups, and in applying this matrix based approach to analysis of such questions.

Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra talks about the research interests within CRAB.

Present MPhil and PhD Projects

  • Variation in corvid ranging, foraging and predatory behaviour, and its effects on songbird productivity (Lucy Capstick)
  • Cooperating in a dynamic social environment (Sylvia Dimitriadou)
  • Breeding of ground-nesting birds and Cuckoos in Dartmoor National Park (Sara Zonneveld)
  • Flamingo Behaviour & Welfare Project (Paul Rose)
  • How animal social network structure of a group can be affected by behavioural traits of an individual and vice versa (Xareni Pacheco)
  • The effect of early rearing environments on the adult behaviour of released pheasants (Mark Whiteside)
  • The influence of Social Networks on Welfare and Productivity in Dairy Cattle (Natasha Boyland).
  • The role of cognitive functions in problem solving across domains in grey squirrels (Pizza Ka Yee Chow)
  • Spatial learning and homing in bumblebees (Théo Robert)

Past MPhil and PhD Projects

  • The role of pollen as a reward for learning in bees (Beth Nicholls)
  • The role of social and cognitive factors in shaping the sexual display of male bowerbirds (Jess Isden)
  • Social influences on caching behaviour in the eastern grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis (Kimberley Jayne).
  • Can cognitive enrichment improve the welfare of captive animals? (Louise Millar).
  • Using Behaviour to Determine Welfare and Enrichment Criteria for Aquatic Environmental Protection Research (Jenny Landin).
  • The structure and function of social networks in a marine predator (David Jacoby).
  • Behavioural Phenotypes: Associated Life History Traits and Environmental Effects on Development (Mathew Edenbrow).
  • Investigations into the function of howl vocalisations in captive black and gold howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya) (Holly Farmer).
  • Exploring the social networks of an endangered population of killer whales (Orcinus orca) (Emma Foster).
  • The influence of experience and familiarity of male trait distributions on female mate-preference functions in guppies (Alessandro Macario).
  • Assessing mechanisms of social conflict and social interactions in captive bachelor gorilla groups (Kirsten Pullen).
  • Investigating the influence of social and non-social factors on the cache-related behaviour of grey squirrels (Lucy Hopewell).
  • Investigating the presence of imitative learning in a variety of zoo housed animals (Nicole Dorey).
  • Effects of captivity and implications for ex-situ conservation - using Ailurus fulgens fulgens as a case study (Kristen Jule).
  • Investigating spontaneous discrimination of natural concepts in non-human primates (Faith Warner).