Institute of Neuroscience

Staff Profile

Dr Christina Halpin

Research Associate

Background

Following an undergraduate degree in Zoology at Newcastle (1998-2001) I completed an MPhil at at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research (2002-2005). This research involved investigating the effects of retionds on Meulloblastoma cell lines. In 2005 I moved back into the field of Zoology and did a PhD supervised by Dr Candy Rowe. My thesis, entitled ‘Avian Cognition and the Evolution of Defences and Warning Signals in Insects’ investigated the initial evolution of conspicuous warning coloration in chemically defended prey. In my BBSRC/NERC co-funded post-doctoral work (2008-2012), I investigated how avian predators make foraging decisions based on nutrient-toxin trade-offs and how these decisions impact on the evolution of prey defences. In 2013 I was awarded a Medical School Faculty Fellowship to further pursue my interest in the evolution of anti-predator defences and avian foraging strategies, with a particular focus on the role of taste. 

Research

My research investigates how the foraging strategies of predators direct the evolution of prey defences. During my PhD, I addressed the theoretical challenge of how warning coloration can initially evolve, specifically asking: how can conspicuous signals be advantageous to toxic prey when they increase the chances of being detected? I showed that the ways in which avian predators taste and reject toxic prey, by detecting the bitter taste of toxins, can increase the survival chances of rare conspicuous prey. My post-doctoral research investigated how birds make foraging decisions based on nutrient-toxin trade-offs, and how these decisions generate selection pressures on prey. I recently demonstrated that birds will increase their intake of toxic prey when these are nutritionally enriched. This fundamentally alters our understanding of the evolution of prey defences and I am currently involved in preparing state-dependent models investigating how the nutritional value of prey affects the evolutionary dynamics of prey defences.

Publications