Throughout the animal kingdom, individuals have been found to behave consistently different from one another over time or across different contexts. This is now mostly referred to as “animal personality”. As part of my PhD I want to understand what role such personality traits play in the structuring and functioning of social groups, i.e. in collective behaviour.
Today I am running an experiment to investigate the consistency of risk-taking behaviour, also known as the boldness personality trait. I work with three-spined sticklebacks that I caught in wild streams near Cambridge. The three-spined stickleback is a wonderful little fish that is not only easy to work with and keep in the lab but a model system for collective behaviour and animal personality.
Topview of the boldness tank with left the deep covered area that leads to an increasingly shallow area on the other side. You can see a fish and its trajectory in the toplane
I gave a talk at the fantastic ISBE Conference in New York this year, entitled Effects of heterogeneity on collective behaviour. My presentation focused on the role of the boldness and sociability personality traits on the collective movements, coordination, and leadership in pairs and small groups of three-spined sticklebacks. A pdf of the talk can be found here (link removed). ∞
Often I wear a thick winter coat when working in my lab but today I forgot it.. Just on a day when I have to spent 12 hours in the lab..
Although most people will probably be enjoying another warm and sunny summer day (unless you live in Britain), I will be in my underground fish lab for 12 consecutive hours. It is about 11 degrees Celsius down here to keep the water housing the hundreds of sticklebacks nice and cool so they won’t get into breeding state and show the associated changes in territorial/mating behaviour. I am however feeling a bit chilly as well as I forgot my coat today.. By typing this I hope at least my hands and fingers will warm-up a bit.
I have recently started a youtube channel (here) to showcase my research projects and interests. As a scientist I believe it is important (and fun!) to engage with the public and make your work understandable to scientists and non-scientists alike. Not only because most science is ultimately payed by the tax payer, but also because one of the main goals of science is to learn more about our world and share this knowledge.
Next to publishing papers it is important to make these papers understandable so that this new knowledge can be appreciated and potentially be used by the general public. The aim with a new youtube channel is to show videos of different aspects of my experiments and projects but also of interesting aspects of social life of both human and non-human animals that reflect my research interests.
Today I would like to share a short video from a recent experiment that shows the successful tracking of five three-spined stickleback fish to investigate the role of animal personality on leadership and group movements.
By tracking the fish we can accurately (mm scale) determine each fish average position in the tank and calculate individual characteristics as well as social parameters for the group, such as group cohesion and leadership. In this particular situation fish 2 was the leader of the group.
I am always looking for possibilities to combine my research interests with music, art or design. Luckily a couple months ago my two friends Jens Bouttery and Daan Milius, professional musician/composer and film makers, asked me to collaborate on a musical performance to explore the boundaries of music, science and art called “Triggers and Tresholds“.
We have had a couple very fruitful weekends in Cambridge during which we some great discussions about science and music and they filmed a couple shorts for the performance later this year. After their last visit here and seeing the sticklebacks and my research in my basement lab in Cambridge, Jens got very creative and within a day wrote a fantastic song about my research on animal personality! Listen to it below:
It is great to work together with good friends and see how my research is translated in such a creative way!
Everyone knows that our personality plays a large role in daily life, from our need for adventure and our desire to hang out with friends, to our discipline in work and our compassion with others. But when we talk about personalities in animals, or non-human animals as I like to say, many may feel it is different. Although most people use personality related terms when talking about our pets, the majority of people may still believe personality is a uniquely human characteristic. The interesting thing is, personalities exist throughout the animal kingdom!
Until about ten years ago researchers talked about the behaviour of animals in general terms, ignoring the behavioural variation between individuals because it was considered ‘noise around the mean’. However, during the last ten years, more and more researches have shown that personalities exist in a wide range of species. From birds to bees, all species so far investigated show that individuals often behave very different from one another and do so consistently throughout their lives in a similar way like we do ourselves. For example, some individuals might be bolder or more aggressive while others are more sociable and tend to follow others. Read further…
Today I presented research I have recently conducted on sticklebacks to investigate the link between animal personality and leadership at the Ecology & Behaviour Conference in Montpellier: Leadership and collective behaviour in sticklebacks∞
This year I presented my work on social attraction and boldness on sticklebacks at the Easter ASAB conference in Sheffield and won the prize for Best Poster (£100)!. You can see the full poster by clicking on the image below: ∞