Our main field site is Lake Tanganyika, one of the Rift Lakes in central Africa. These lakes are exceptional sites for research into the evolution of social systems, effectively being replicate evolutionary experiments writ large (Lake Tanganyika is the 2nd largest lake in the world, containing 18% of the world’s freshwater). Although challenging to access, the Rift Lakes have been dubbed “Darwin’s Dreamponds” because they provide an unparalleled opportunity to understand evolutionary processes, and are one of the most valuable biological research resources on the planet. At Lake Tanganyika, our group studies how groups and collectives of social fish interact to overcome the most pressing ecological challenges – detecting and avoiding predators, searching for areas of food and shelter, and finding mates. With some very fancy technical approaches using machine vision and tracking, we conduct detailed studies of the behavioural and neural mechanisms that allow these animals to communicate and coordinate their behaviour, potentially harnessing emergent behaviours that exceed the abilities of single individuals.
Coral Reefs – Jamaica, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean
No proper tropical fish biology lab would be complete without some work on coral reefs. In the Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, we study how groups of damselfish form and interact, and what the consequences of differing group structure may be on ecological processes. In the Red Sea we work out of Eilat, with the Inter-University Institute, on the Barrier Reef have worked from One Tree Island Research Station, and we are currently starting a research program in the Mediterranean.
Rainforests in Panama
We study social spider behaviour in the rainforests of Panama and Colombia, having first visited to study Tungara frogs. The Darien Gap is a particularly rich biological resource, having been protected from logging and tourism by the conflict between FARC Guerillas and government forces for many years. With careful planning and a sense of adventure it is possible to explore these forests and work in some of the most remote and undisturbed areas of forest in the world.
Deserts in the Middle East
Our work on social spiders also takes us into the Negev desert, where temperatures regularly reach upwards of 40 degrees Celsius. Here we study how groups of spiders live together and resolve conflict over home site selection and hunting strategy.
Local sites – Lake Konstanz and the Rhein
Closer to home, we are always finding reasons to get into the water and study local fish species. The Bodensee is a wonderful spot to test out ideas and techniques, and also convenient for a drink in the numerous beer gardens after a day’s work.