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John Kirwan

Doctoral student | MSc

I am an Irish PhD student and I have recently begun a research project on the functional biology of vision in complex animals here in Lund.

Although vision has been explored in great detail in a few groups of animals (including from an optical, physiological, genetic and behavioural perspective) we have very little idea how many groups of animals use their eyes, why they have certain kinds of eyes or why they don't. Most animals with eyes see very poorly by our standards but they may also see differently or have eyes acutely suited to their requirements.

My work at Lund will involve using the tools of optics, neuroethology, modelling and potentially molecular and developmental biology to answer questions about visual ecology and evolution in complex animals (Bilateria). We are still working out what exactly this will entail and what questions we will ask. Most likely it will involve some combination of (i) developing computational methods to understand and predict the relationship between eye size and structure and sensory ecology and (ii) investigating how and why good vision came about in the early days of animal evolution, independently in a number of different groups. This will involve trying to work out how animals use their eyes (and the visual parts of their nervous systems) and how this fits in with our knowledge of behaviour, ecology and development.

I have always been interested in the natural world, especially living things: their diversity and the processes which sustain them. Evolution underpins all these processes - whether at the level of the molecule, the individual or complex communities of species. Evolution is both the determinant and the product of ecology - the interactions between living things, each other and their environment. Within these disciplines are the most fundamental and interesting questions of Life.

My favourite living things to work on are the animals, in particular, the invertebrates (animals without a backbone) but I'm not fussy. I am interested in using a variety of different methodologies, such as functional biology, molecular biology and mathematical modelling to treat of long-standing questions. I have previously carried out research worked on molecular evolution and ecological modelling and worked in ecology and conservation roles. I am also interested in population biology and its evolutionary correlates and in the fundamental questions of evolutionary ecology. Although not quite relevant to my current research, I am very interested in habitat conservation and restoration and how these relate to agriculture and society at large.

Now is a great time to be a biologist. With new methods and technologies age old questions can now be tackled and theory and experiment are coming together. With unprecedented computing power, new statistical and modelling tools, new genomes, transcriptomes et cetera available left, right and centre and myriad other innovations biology has become both challenging and captivating.

Page Manager:
John Kirwan
E-mail: john.kirwan [at]

Doctoral student

Functional zoology

+46 46 222 86 29

+46 70 680 46 47



Research group

Lund Vision Group



Main supervisor

Dan-Eric Nilsson

Assistant supervisor

Almut Kelber