bank vole resting on a log

Research themes

Our research focuses on four key areas of interest: chemical communication, reproductive strategies, conservation and animal welfare.

Research projects often span at least two of these key areas, for example, the chemical signals involved in reproductive competition, factors influencing population conservation and individual welfare, or improving the humaneness of pest control.

Chemical communication

We have a long-standing interest in the functions, mechanisms and evolution of chemical communication, particularly among mammals. Close collaboration with Professor Rob Beynon in the Centre for Proteome Research allows us to address both the behavioural aspects of communication and the molecular basis of scent signals.

We are particularly interested in the use of scent signals deployed in the environment through scent marking, the roles of involatile urinary proteins in scent signalling, and their interactions with volatile pheromones and with MHC odours.

Current areas of interest include:

  • Scents used in mate choice to assess male quality, genetic heterozygosity, genetic compatibility and relatedness (linking with our reproductive strategies theme)
  • Scent cues used for home area navigation among house mice
  • The molecular basis of species, sex and individual identity signals in mice
  • The diversity and functions of urinary proteins in mammals
  • Scents that stimulate aggression between laboratory mice (linking with our animal welfare theme).

Reproductive strategies

Animals have evolved an enormous variety of adaptations to promote successful reproduction, including diverse behavioural, anatomical and life history traits. The evolutionary selection pressures shaping this diversity are complex, often involving conflicts of interest between competing individuals, sexual partners, or family members.

We are investigating the consequences of these selection pressures, with particular focus on mechanisms and evolutionary consequences of reproductive competition.

Current areas of interest include:

  • Social competition and reproductive suppression
  • Pre- and postcopulatory sexual selection
  • Phenotypic plasticity in reproductive and life history traits
  • Communal breeding and parental care strategies.

Ecology, biodiversity and conservation

In a rapidly changing world, we need to understand how animals respond to their environment, both in terms of their behaviour and distribution. We investigate the ecological processes underpinning population performance at local and global levels as well as in captive breeding of endangered species.

We are also investigating new ways to control invasive rodent species that threaten the survival of many endemic island species, and ways to reduce the impact of rodenticides on non-target species.

Animal welfare

We are applying an evolutionary perspective to advance the fundamental understanding of animal welfare. Based on our understanding of the normal behaviour of animals, we aim to quantify the impact of captive housing and management, artificial selection, inbreeding and disease on the behaviour and welfare of laboratory rodents, livestock and zoo animals. And to find solutions to important welfare problems.

Current areas of interest include:

  • Reducing aggression and social isolation among laboratory rodents
  • Novel approaches for improved assessment and monitoring of animal welfare
  • Sustainable approaches for reducing disease transmission among livestock
  • Understanding the impact of life history trade-offs and artificial selection to improve the breeding and management of animals.