Talk at SEB conference Florence

The last couple days I have been in Florence for the SEB conference. What a great location to have a conference! Where else can you have pizza for breakfast?

On Tuesday I gave a talk about a mechanistic framework I am developing with Shaun Killen to understand the role of individual heterogeneity in collective behaviour. The sessions this year are all really relevant to me and saw lots of great talks and posters and nice to bump into academic friends from around the world. Too many new project ideas! But I think some nice new collaborations will come from it as well.

This morning I spent a couple hours sight-seeing this beautiful city and taking it its amazing atmosphere. I am currently sitting under some large trees at a small restaurant, listening to cicadas and enjoying a cold peer juice, before I take the bus back to the airport. Looking forward to next year’s conference in Seville!

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Departmental seminar Münster University

Today I visited Münster to give an invited departmental seminar at the Institute for Evolution & Biodiversity. It was great to see the nice stickleback labs of Jörn Scharsack and Joachim Kurz and the way in which they are able to experimentally parasitise the fish with Schistocephalus.

Really enjoyed meeting many other members of the department and the very enthusiastic students in the group. I am excited about the possibilities for future collaborations with Jörn to unravel the mechanistic underpinnings of parasite infection and its link to personality variation. Thanks again to Jörn and Nicolle for inviting me!

Departmental seminar University of Bonn

Today I visited the Institute for Zoology at the University of Bonn. I was invited by Gerhard von der Emde to give a departmental seminar and discuss ideas for investigating individual differences and collective behaviour in weakly electric fish.

Gerhard is an expert on electro-signalling and communicating in weakly electric fish and has been doing great work on unravelling the potential ways that these fish use their electric field. See for example their recent paper in PNAS that shows fish actively use electrocommunication in their interactions.

It was really nice to discuss ideas and learn more about these amazing fish. For sure many great opportunities to investigate a totally new domain of individual differences in collective behaviour!

 

A mormyrid weakly electric fish in the lab of Gerhard von der Emde

 

Collaborators Shaun Killen & Lucy Cotgrove visiting

The last couple days Shaun Killen and Lucy Cotgrove from the University of Glasgow visited me in Konstanz to work together on a couple of exciting projects. Shaun and I started collaborating about a year ago to bridge the fields of animal physiology, animal personality, and collective behaviour.

With help of a Zukunftskolleg mentorship grant, we recently started writing an opinion paper on the topic, as well as analysing an exciting experiment with Lucy on the role of individual differences in metabolic rate on collective movement dynamics of schooling fish.Read further…

Poster at the von Humboldt conference

The last three days I attended the annual von Humboldt conference. It was great fun meeting my fellow research fellows and learning about their (extremely diverse!) work. Quite surprised to learn I was the only Dutch research fellow this year among the many nationalities. Had the chance to present my work during the poster session, which was great fun, and exciting to showcase my new tracking software live using a mobile projector. Got many new ideas these last couple days by chatting with the other researchers at such an inter-discplinary level.

New MSc student joins the lab

Today French MSc student Pauline joins the lab! She starts a three-month project to investigate the mechanisms underlying the boldness personality trait and will run a range of behavioural experiments with three-spined sticklebacks.

Started von Humboldt & Zukunftskolleg fellowship

Today is the start of a new research period for me. I was very lucky to be awarded both a von Humboldt postdoctoral fellowship as well as a Zukunfstkolleg fellowship. These fellowships will give me the freedom to fully develop and pursue my own research ideas and set up my own interdisciplinary research program.

The next couple years I will aim to set up a unified framework for investigating the link between consistent behavioural variation, the emergence of collective properties, group functioning, and ultimately individual fitness and between-group dynamics. I will employ a combination of detailed laboratory experiments, field surveys, and computational modelling to study consistent behavioural phenotypes and collective behaviour of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus).

By developing this framework and fully bridging the gap between the fields of Animal Personality and Collective Behaviour, I aim for this project to yield crucial new insights into the ecological and evolutionary implications of consistent behavioural phenotypes and the evolution of sociality.

New paper out in ProcB!

From swarm to school, stickleback groups differ repeatedly in their collective performance  

 among schooling fish, groups can have different collective personalities, with some shoals sticking closer together, being better coordinated, and showing clearer leadership than others.

For centuries, scientists and non-scientists alike have been fascinated by the beautiful and often complex collective behaviour of animal groups, such as the highly synchronised movements of flocks of birds and schools of fish. Often, those spectacular collective patterns emerge from individual group members using simple rules in their interactions, without requiring global knowledge of their group.

In recent years it has also become apparent that, across the animal kingdom, individual animals often differ considerably and consistently in their behaviour, with some individuals being bolder, more active, or more social than others.

New research conducted at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology suggests that observations of different groups of schooling fish could provide important insights into how the make-up of groups can drive collective behaviour and performance.

In the study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers created random groups of wild-caught stickleback fish and subjected them repeatedly to a range of environments that included open spaces, plant cover, and patches of food.

“By filming the schooling fish from above and tracking the groups’ movements in detail, we found that the randomly composed shoals showed profound differences in their collective behaviour that persisted across different ecological contexts. Some groups were consistently faster, better coordinated, more cohesive, and showed clearer leadership structure than others.

“That such differences existed among the groups is remarkable as individuals were randomly grouped with others that were of similar age and size and with which they had very limited previous social contact.”

This research shows for the first time that, even among animals where group membership changes frequently over time and individuals are not very strongly related to each other, such as schooling fish or flocking birds, stable differences can emerge in the collective performance of animal groups.

Such behavioural variability among groups may directly affect the survival and reproductive success of the individuals within them and influence how they associate with one another. Ultimately these findings may therefore help understand the selective pressures that have shaped social behaviour.

Dr Andrea Manica, co-author of the paper, added: “Our research reveals that the collective performance of groups is strongly driven by their composition, suggesting that consistent behavioural differences among groups could be a widespread phenomenon in animal societies”.

 These research findings provide important new insights that may help explain and predict the performance of social groups, which could be beneficial in building human teams or constructing automated robot swarms.

The study is published in the 7 February 2018 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B and is available Open Access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.2629

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Finished student experiment

The last 6 weeks master students Jana and Fe did an exciting project with me to understand if and how fish school under different light conditions, including complete darkness. They did an excellent job and although still preliminary we already got some exciting results, giving insights into what senses sticklebacks use for schooling and how they manage to school even under very low light conditions. More about this soon!

Awarded public engagement grant

An important aspect of science is the dialogue with the general public. Most public outreach is however rather static, only focused on transferring knowledge, and quite uni-directional. I wanted to find a way to convey my research about collective animal behaviour in a format that people can engage with and appreciate.

An excellent opportunity for more interactive outreach is to bridge science with art. Not only may this lead to a better understanding of science by the general public and more appreciation about the hidden beauty of the world around us, it may also generate new ideas and perspectives about my own work.

I am excited to say that I have been awarded a Zukunftskolleg Intersectoral grant that enables me to set-up a professional collaboration with Toer, a Dutch design studio known for their curiosity-driven work and interactive art installations. This long-term program will bridge the disciplines of science, art, and technology with the aim to not only inform and educate the public about collective behaviour but to inspire and make science accessible in a playful way.

The project is called Under the surface, of which soon we will launch a brand new website at www.under-the-surface.com!