I’ve always been interested in the way small brains achieve seemingly complex behaviours. All animals, however great or small, encounter ecological challenges that they must overcome in order to survive. One such challenge is getting from point A to point B. To do this, an animal must extract reliable orientation cues from its environment, process them and adjust its behaviour accordingly. In insects, this task is achieved using an extremely small number of neurons in comparison to their vertebrate counterparts. This, along with insects’ experimental tractability offers a unique opportunity to investigate the behavioural and physiological mechanisms underpinning animal orientation.
My current postdoctoral research is conducted within the Lund Vision Group under the supervision of Dr Marie Dacke and Dr Basil el Jundi. It sets out to establish how dung beetles are capable of orientating away from their dung pile using multiple sensory modalities, specifically wind and light information. My analysis of this behaviour involves a combination of behavioural, electrophysiological and neuroanatomical approaches. With these data I aim to explore how the brain gathers and integrates different modalities of sensory information to produce functionally relevant behaviour, thus highlighting general principles of neural structure and function.
My scientific career started at Newcastle University, UK, where in 2010 I completed my BSc in Biology. I stayed on there to complete my MRes in Animal Behaviour in the Institute of Neuroscience. I then moved to Brighton in 2012 to start my PhD in Neuroscience in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex. There, under the supervision of Dr Jeremy Niven and Dr Andy Philippides, I studied lateralised motor behaviour in insects. We demonstrated that these relatively small nervous systems are capable of producing lateralised motor behaviour and showed how such lateralisation can be advantageous at the individual and group level.