Dr John Skelhorn
Lecturer in Animal Cognition
- Email: email@example.com
- Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 5142
- Address: Centre for Behaviour and Evolution
Institute of Neuroscience
Henry Wellcome Building
I studied Zoology at the University of Nottingham, and then went on to do a PhD on animal cognition at Newcastle University. After two post-doctoral positions and a Lloyds Tercentenary Foundation Fellowship, I took up a lectureship in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter. I then returned to Newcastle in 2013 as a Lecturer in Animal Cognition. In 2012 I was given the Christopher Barnard Award for Outstanding Contributions by a New Investigator by the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
The overarching theme of my research is how the sensory and cognitive processes of predators influence the evolution of their prey. My main questions are: how do predators decide what to eat when faced with a number of different prey types? What is the adaptive value of this behaviour? And how does this behaviour influence the evolution of prey defences? My work can be divided into two main areas: how predaor psychology influences the evolution of (1) defended prey; and (2) masquerading prey.
Predator psychology and the evolution of defended prey
Many toxic prey species advertise their chemical defences to potential predators using conspicuous aposematic colouration. My work investigates how predator psychology influences the evolution of preys’ chemical defences and their chemical and visual signals. I take a holistic approach to avian cognition, using tightly controlled laboratory experiments to investigate how birds perceive both taste and toxicity, how defence chemicals influence aversion learning, and how educated birds use information about prey quality to make strategic-decisions about when to eat toxic prey.
Predator psychology and the evolution of masquerade
Masquerading prey appear to mimic the visual appearance of inanimate objects such as twigs, leaves, stones and bird droppings. My research in this area aims: to understand both the evolutionary function, and the evolutionary dynamics of masquerade; to demonstrate that prey show behavioural adaptations that enhance the efficacy of masquerade; and to understand predators’ decisions to attack masquerading prey in an optimal foraging context.
- Troscianko J, Skelhorn J, Stevens M. Quantifying camouflage: how to predict detectability from appearance. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2017, 17(7).
- Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C, Ruxton GD, Higginson AD. The Impact of Detoxification Costs and Predation Risk on Foraging: Implications for Mimicry Dynamics. PLoS One 2017, 12(1), e0169043.
- Skelhorn J. Bitter tastes can influence birds' dietary expansion strategies. Behavioral Ecology 2016, 27(3), 725-730.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Cognition and the evolution of camouflage. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2016, 283(1825).
- Skelhorn J, Holmes GG, Rowe C. Deimatic or aposematic?. Animal Behaviour 2016, 113, e1-e3.
- Skelhorn J, Holmes GG, Hossie TJ, Sherratt TN. Eyespots. Current Biology 2016, 26(2), R52-R54.
- Skelhorn J, Halpin CG, Rowe C. Learning about aposematic prey. Behavioral Ecology 2016, 27(4), 955-964.
- Skelhorn J, Holmes GG, Hossie TJ, Sherratt TN. Multicomponent deceptive signals reduce the speed at which predators learn that prey are profitable. Behavioral Ecology 2016, 27(1), 141-147.
- Skelhorn J, Halpin CG, Rowe C. What do predators do? A response to comments on Skelhorn et al. Behavioral Ecology 2016, 27(4), 968-968.
- Hossie TJ, Skelhorn J, Breinholt JW, Kawahara AY, Sherratt TN. Body size affects the evolution of eyespots in caterpillars. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2015, 112(21), 6664-6669.
- Skelhorn J. Masquerade. Current Biology 2015, 25(15), R643-R644.
- Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Increased predation of nutrient-enriched aposematic prey. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2014, 281(1781), 20133255.
- Skelhorn J, Dorrington G, Hossie TJ, Sherratt TN. The position of eyespots and thickened segments influence their protective value to caterpillars. Behavioral Ecology 2014, 25(6), 1417-1422.
- Skelhorn J, Ruxton GD. Viewing distance affects how the presence of inedible models influence the benefit of masquerade. Evolutionary Ecology 2014, 28(3), 441-455.
- Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Predators' decisions to eat defended prey depend on the size of undefended prey. Animal Behaviour 2013, 85(6), 1315-1321.
- Barnett CA, Skelhorn J, Bateson M, Rowe C. Educated predators make strategic decisions to eat defended prey according to their toxin content. Behavioral Ecology 2012, 23(2), 418-424.
- Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C. The relationship between sympatric defended species depends upon predators’ discriminatory behaviour. PLoS One 2012, 7(9), e44895.
- Skelhorn J. Colour biases are a question of conspecifics' taste. Animal Behaviour 2011, 81(4), 825-829.
- Skelhorn J, Rowland HM, Delf J, Speed MP, Ruxton GD. Density-dependent predation influences the evolution and behavior of masquerading prey. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2011, 108(16), 6532-6536.
- Skelhorn J, Ruxton GD. Mimicking multiple models: polyphenetic masqueraders gain additional benefits from crypsis. Behavioral Ecology 2011, 22(1), 60-65.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Birds learn to use distastefulness as a signal of toxicity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2010, 277(1688), 1729-1734.
- Skelhorn J, Rowland HM, Speed MP, Ruxton GD. Masquerade: camouflage without crypsis. Science 2010, 327(5961), 51.
- Skelhorn J, Ruxton GD. Predators are less likely to misclassify masquerading prey when their models are present. Biology Letters 2010, 6(5), 597-599.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Distastefulness as an antipredator defence strategy. Animal Behaviour 2009, 78(3), 761-766.
- Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Being conspicuous and defended: Selective benefits for the individual. Behavioral Ecology 2008, 19(5), 1012-1017.
- Skelhorn J, Griksaitis D, Rowe C. Colour biases are more than a question of taste. Animal Behaviour 2008, 75(3), 827-835.
- Skelhorn J, Ruxton GD. Ecological factors influencing the evolution of insects' chemical defenses. Behavioral Ecology 2008, 19(1), 146-153.
- Halpin CG, Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Naïve predators and selection for rare conspicuous defended prey: the initial evolution of aposematism revisited. Animal Behaviour 2008, 75(3), 771-781.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Automimic frequency influences the foraging decisions of avian predators on aposematic prey. Animal Behaviour 2007, 74(5), 1563-1572.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Predators' Toxin Burdens Influence Their Strategic Decisions to Eat Toxic Prey. Current Biology 2007, 17(17), 1479-1483.
- Skelhorn J, Ruxton GD. Avian predators attack aposematic prey more forcefully when they are part of an aggregation. Biology Letters 2006, 2(4), 488-490.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Avian predators taste-reject aposematic prey on the basis of their chemical defence. Biology Letters 2006, 2(3), 348-350.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Do the multiple defense chemicals of visually distinct species enhance predator learning?. Behavioral Ecology 2006, 17(6), 947-951.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Predator avoidance learning of prey with secreted or stored defences and the evolution of insect defences. Animal Behaviour 2006, 72(4), 827-834.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Prey palatability influences predator learning and memory. Animal Behaviour 2006, 71(5), 1111-1118.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Taste-rejection by predators and the evolution of unpalatability in prey. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 2006, 60(4), 550-555.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Frequency-dependent taste-rejection by avian predation may select for defence chemical polymorphisms in aposematic prey. Biology Letters 2005, 1(4), 500-503.
- Skelhorn J, Rowe C. Tasting the difference: Do multiple defence chemicals interact in Müllerian mimicry?. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2005, 272(1560), 339-345.
- Rowe C, Skelhorn J. Avian psychology and communication. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2004, 271(1547), 1435-1442.