Social Information and Social Learning

sticklesOther animals can provide observers with valuable information about the distribution of resources and hazards. We are interested in how and when animals use social information, and whether certain species are specialised in gathering or using information through monitoring the behaviour of others. A major project investigates the phylogenetic distribution of social learning in stickleback fishes, the role of predation risk in driving social information use and the importance of ontogenetic experience in shaping social learning. We are also interested in the mechanisms by which social learning occurs: what is actually learned during social learning, and what aspects of one animal’s behaviour are involved in the transmission of information to another?

A related project explores social learning strategies: do animals tend to use social information to a greater extent under particular conditions, and are they more likely to learn from some individuals than others?

Finally, at a broader scale, we are interested in how information diffuses through groups. Can the spread of information be quantified and captured using information on the social network structure of the group, and how is this affected by the physical and social environment?

Archer Fish

ArcherArcher fish (Toxotes spp.) are renowned for their ability to shoot down terrestrial prey by spitting jets of water at them. We investigate how archer fish use social information from conspecifics to learn which targets to shoot at and how to improve their shooting accuracy. This project is led by PhD student Nick Jones, supervised by Luke Rendell and myself. We also work closely with Stefan Schuster at the University of Bayreuth.

Predator-prey interactions

GammarusFor many species, protection from predators is a major advantage of living in groups. We use gammarids, small aquatic crustaceans, to investigate the mechanisms behind grouping as an anti-predators strategy. Projects focus upon the role of conspecific injury cues in shaping grouping responses and facilitating learning about novel predators, and the dynamics of selfish herd behaviour.

Shoaling and schooling

Surf perch

Using laboratory and field experiments we investigate the mechanisms behind group formation, the role of different forms of recognition in shaping grouping behaviour, the effects of the physical environment upon group structure, and the rules of interaction between the members of mobile groups.


AnemonesWhile access to social information and protection from predators are two of the major benefits of living in groups, competition for resources is one of the most significant costs. We study the effects of variation in competitive ability upon the social structure of groups of fish. We also investigate the behavioural strategies that group-living animals employ to offset the costs of competition when foraging, and the impact that these have upon the efficiency with which they search for food. Using sea anemones, we explore the dynamics of shadow competition among drift-feeding predators.