I studied Zoology at Nottingham, and then went on to do a DPhil on animal communication in Oxford. I came to Newcastle in 1998, first as a Sir James Knott Research Fellow, and then as a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow. During this time, I worked on various aspects of animal communication, particularly looking at how animals combine signalled information in multiple sensory modalities. I became a Reader in Animal Behaviour and Cognition in 2008, and am currently Co-Director of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.
I'm interested in animal cognition, and its role in the evolution of adaptive behaviour. During my DPhil, I developed an interest in 'multimodal communication', where communication occurs in more than one sensory modality. By studying the multimodal warning signals of toxic insect prey to their avian predators, I have begun to understand the selection pressures exerted by cognitive systems on complex signalling. I am also interested more generally in how animal signals evolve, leading to current collaborations with Dr Leena Lindstrom (Jyvaskyla) and Prof Carel ten Cate (Leiden). These studies have lead more recently for me to think about how animals make optimal foraging decisions when faced with a variety of palatable and toxic prey, and the implications of these decision-making processes on the evolution of prey defence strategies. Much of this work has been developed in collaboration with John Skelhorn, and is concerned with what animals learn about the nutritional and toxic properties of prey, and how they use this information to modify their diets according to their current physiological state. I am also interested in the evolution of cognitive processes, and their neural bases, and am developing a new collaboration with Dr Sue Healy (Edinburgh) in this area.
My work is supported by the BBSRC, the Royal Society, and the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
I am currently the Secretary for the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (2008-2013), and am also an Editor for Behavioral Ecology.