We are a research group based in the Centre for Biological Diversity in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews. Our research centres on behavioural and evolutionary ecology, mainly focussing on group-living and social behaviour, but also delving into phenotypic plasticity, reporting and reproducibility of research and behavioural responses to environmental change.
What are we working on at the moment?
We are studing social information transmission and social learning, exploring how animals acquire information from others, when they use it and how this is shaped by factors such as their experience, the physical environment and the presence of predators.
Archerfish (Toxotes sp.) are renowned for their ability to shoot down terrestrial prey by spitting jets of water at them, but shooting fish are susceptible to losing their prey to rivals. Work led by Nick Jones and Dagmar der Weduwen is revealing that both the social environment and individual cognitive styles are important in shaping archerfish foraging decisions.
Other projects investigate the formation, organisation and maintenance of mobile animal groups, the role of grouping in predator-prey interactions, the impact of grouping on resource competition and the effects of human-induced environmental change on all of these.
We are also interested in the reporting of sampling biases in animal behaviour research. Often, the animals that we test are not fully representative of the wider populations that we seek to understand. We coined the acronym STRANGE to capture important sources of sampling bias. STRANGE stands for Social background; Trappability and self-selection; Rearing history; Acclimation and habituation; Natural changes in responsiveness; Genetic make-up; and Experience. The STRANGE framework aims to encourage the animal behaviour research community to think about how we design experiments to minimise sampling biases and how we declare and discuss the impact and implications of sampling biases where these are unavoidable. You can read the original STRANGE paper here and visit the STRANGE website and Twitter for guidance and updates.