I was awarded the Thirkill Prize for my contributions to college life. I fulfilled the position of Graduate Research Officer, set-up a brand new umbrella organisation called “Clarity” with the aim to increase the interdisciplinary discussion at Clare, and organised the yearly Clare Research Symposium, which was a great succes. Read more about it here. ∞
Recently I was invited to participate in the latest episode of the fantastic Naked Scientists podcasts series to highlight why sticklebacks are the most incredible animal on the planet!
Colour-switching sticklebacks, geckos with enough adhesive power to hold up a human, bats with built-in sonar and moles with amazing noses – this week we go in search of the world’s most incredible animals. Scientists passionate about their species put their cases to our panel. But which animal will be crowned king?
To make clear to the radio audience why sticklebacks, perhaps ordinary looking fish to most, are actually an amazing animal species I brought along 10 fellow stickles and made them change colour over the time of the hour long interactive show! You can listen to the full podcast here or just listen to my part here where I also discuss a range of other cool abilities of this great little fish.
The Naked Scientists show was brilliantly hosted by Ginny Smith, had some amazing other speakers including Hannah Rowland, Corina Logan, Nick Crumpton, and Jade Cawthray, and also aired on BBC Radio 5.
Recent research of colleagues and I at the University of Cambridge has revealed that sticklebacks with bolder personalities are not only better leaders but also less sociable than more timid fish. The behaviour of these bolder fish shapes the dynamics of the group.
See a 4min video about the paper here: http://youtu.be/5TSim9TkXiw
Throughout the animal kingdom, individuals often live and move together in groups, from swarms of insects to troops of primates. Individual animals may benefit from being part of groups, which provide protection from predators and help in finding food. To ensure that individuals reap the benefits of togetherness, group members coordinate their behaviour. As a result, leaders and followers emerge.
Within groups, animals differ from each other in how they cope with their environment and often exhibit distinctive traits, such as boldness or sociability. Even three-spined sticklebacks, the ‘tiddlers’ collected from streams and ponds by generations of schoolchildren, can be described in terms of their personalities: some are bolder and take more risks, while others are more timid and spend more of their time hiding in the weeds.
Research carried out in the Zoology Department at the University of Cambridge suggests that observations of these tiny fish, and how they interact with one another, could provide important insights into the dynamics of social groups, including humans.
Jolle Jolles, lead author of the study, said: “Although we now know that the spectacular collective behaviours we find throughout the animal kingdom can often be explained by individuals following simple rules, little is known about how this may be affected by the personality types that exist within the group.
“Our research shows that personality plays an important role in collective behaviour and that boldness and sociability may have significant, and complementary, effects on the functioning of the group.”
In the study, the researchers studied the behaviours of sticklebacks in tanks containing gravel and weed to imitate patches of a riverbed. The tanks were divided into two lanes by transparent partitions and randomly-selected pairs of fish were placed one in each lane. Separated by the see-through division, the fish were able to see and interact with one another.
The positions and movements of the individual sticklebacks were recorded using sophisticated tracking technology, enabling accurate comparisons to be made of each fish’s role in the collective movement of the pair.
“We found that individuals differed considerably and consistently in their tendency to approach their partner,” said Jolles. The study showed that more sociable individuals tended to be coordinated in their behaviour while less sociable individuals were more inclined to lead.
Dr Andrea Manica, reader at the Department of Zoology and co-author of the paper, added: “Our research revealed that the tendency of fish to approach their partner was strongly linked to their boldness: bolder fish were less sociable than their more timid group mates.”
Jolles explains that sociability may form part of a broader behavioural syndrome. “Our results suggest that bolder, less sociable individuals may often lead simply because they are less reluctant to move away from their partners, whereas shyer, more sociable, individuals become followers because they prioritise staying close to others,” he said.
“Differences in boldness and sociability may be expressions of underlying risk-prone or risk-averse behavioural types, as risk-averse individuals may be more motivated to group together and to respond to other individuals in order to avoid predation.”
The findings of this study suggest that leadership and group coordination can be strongly affected by personality differences in the group and that boldness and sociability may play important but complementary roles in collective behaviour.
Jolles added: “Now we know these personality traits affect the collective movements of pairs of fish, the next step is to understand their role in the functioning and success of larger, more dynamic groups.”
See a 4min video in which we explain our paper in more detail below:
Click here to download the paper.
Jolles JW, et al. (2015) The role of social attraction and its link with boldness in the collective movements of three-spined sticklebacks. Animal Behaviour, published online 2 Dec. Doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.11.004
With the start of the new academic year 2014-2015, my role as Graduate Research officer of the Graduate committee of Clare College (and Clareity President) has ended. It was a wonderful and diverse year. Next to organising a series of evening seminars where Clare graduates present their work and discuss topics in the humanities or natural sciences, and a full-day research symposium, I set-up a new umbrella organisation with the aim to increase the interdisciplinary discussion at Clare.
I am working on a short film about my research at the University of Cambridge that will showcase the fascinating aspects of animal personality as well as depict a day in the life of a behavioural scientist, from wading through wild streams catching sticklebacks to doing experiments in my underground lab in the centre of Cambridge. As inspirations for the short, I will be posting short clips here on my blog. This first one shows my daily commute from my house out in the west of Cambridge to my basement laboratory at the department of Zoology.
Today I gave a departmental talk about my PhD research entitled Individual differences, heterogeneity, and social decision-making. ∞
I gave a talk at the Clare Research Symposium: Social factors and animal personality affect social foraging tactics in rooks, at Clare College, Cambridge ∞
I got elected as Graduate Research Officer of the Clare College Graduate Committee (MCR) for the year 2013-2014 ∞