Institute of Neuroscience

Staff Profile

Dr Claire Witham

Research Fellow

Background

I am a MRC/Newcastle University joint funded research fellow primarily based at the MRC Centre for Macaques (CFM) in Wiltshire.

CFM is a breeding centre and supplies academic institutions in the UK with rhesus macaques for research. The monkeys are housed in matrilineal groups with one male, 3-10 females and their infants.

My role involves co-ordinating the scientific projects that take place at CFM and carrying out my own research in primate welfare.  

Research

Current Interests

The main focus of my current research is to develop new methods for monitoring the welfare of primates used in research. There are two strands to my research; firstly to investigate the use of sleep as a potential measure of welfare and secondly to develop automated techniques for analysing behaviour in videos. This research includes monkeys at both the Centre for Macaques and Newcastle University.

Sleep and Nocturnal Behaviour

People suffering from conditions such as stress and depression frequently complain of disrupted sleep. However, the use of sleep and nocturnal behaviour for monitoring welfare in animals has been almost entirely neglected. By using infrared sensitive cameras and infrared lights I can monitor how well the monkeys sleep (sleep duration/frequency of waking), where they choose to sleep within their enclosures and see different nocturnal behaviours such as scratching, stretching and yawning. I am investigating how sleep changes in relation to welfare interventions and also the impact of group size and the presence of young infants has on sleep.

Automated Analysis of Behaviour

Video is a widely used method for collecting behaviour data. However analysing video data is time consuming and requires training of staff. This makes it impractical to use on a regular basis to monitor welfare. I am developing automated techniques to analyse videos; these include utilising techniques developed from computer vision including face detection and face recognition to identify individual monkeys.

 

Previous Research

Previous to my current appointment I was a neuroscientist based in the lab of Prof Stuart Baker at Newcastle. My research included investigating the functional role of oscillations in the sensorimotor system in both monkeys and humans.

Publications