Field trip in Catalunya

Observations of schooling Mediterranean barbel

Last week I was in Catalunya visiting friends and family and some undistracted paper writing. Catalunya, where my wife grew up, is an amazing place and feels like a second home to me. With the Mediterranean sea and the Pyrenean mountains within half an hour’s drive, there is always a lot to explore.

Hiking up the beautiful Gorge of Sadernes, Catalunya.

Hiking up the beautiful Gorge of Sadernes, Catalunya.

During some recent trips, I went hiking in the Pyrenean foothills and discovered schools of Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis). They seemed to be separate populations living in semi-isolated pools of a small mountain river. This species of Barbus is only native to a small area in and around the Eastern Pyrenees. Sadly, in recent years its numbers have plummeted with 30% (source: IUCN), highlighting an urgent need to better understand their ecology and vulnerabilities.

A shoal of Mediterranean barbel foraging on limestone rocks.

A shoal of Mediterranean barbel foraging on limestone rocks.

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Wild schools of Moderlieschen

Last weekend I went exploring the streams and lakes in the countryside near Konstanz to search for Moderlischen and determine the possibilities for doing fieldwork to investigate group movement dynamics and composition in the wild.

I was able to find them in some tiny streams leading to a small lake, showcasing some nice examples of collective shelter use and leadership and exploration of the stream, see the video below. Looking forward to starting exploring possibilities to start some actual field work on these populations.

Stickleback spine-use project

Very recently two part IB students of mine finished a nice little experiment on the spine-use of three-spine sticklebacks. We were interested to see how personality might be related to the raising of the spines of three-spine sticklebacks as it helps them in protection against predators. Watch this close-up video that I took that nicely shows one individual stickleback raising its spines and lowering them again after feeling threatened by my presence. Hopefully soon we have the manuscript out with the findings of our study!

New video of three-spine stickleback in my lab

Today I took a new video of the stickleback in my lab to use to talk about my work and these amazing fish during public lectures and conference presentations!

What you can see really well in this short little video is the large morphological and behavioural variation of the fish. Despite being similar in age the fish are quite different in body size as well as their colouration. Also pay attention to the spines, you can see individual fish often raising their spines at the moment they feel threatened by my presence.

One of the social housing tanks I use to house some of my hundreds of little stickebacks

One of the social housing tanks I use to house some of my hundreds of little stickebacks

Timelapse video of a boldness session

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the personality testing for boldness, today I made a time-lapse video from one of the sessions to get a quick overview of the actual running of the experiment. For most experiments I work with 40-64 fish per batch and potentially run multiple batches. Therefore, to be able to test all fish on the same day I test 8 fish simultaneously in 8 separate lanes for one hour and run 8 consecutive sessions in a row.
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Home to work at my Cambridge lab

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.