Lecturer, Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology, Manchester Metropolitan University
I am interested in quantifying animal locomotion and sensing behaviours by using image processing techniques. My research fits well into the fields of Sensory Ecology, Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Neuroscience.
I study animal behaviour, which is one of the most important links between organisms and their environment, and the nervous system and the ecosystem. My research is concerned with measuring the movements of animals to understand more about their behaviour, muscles and brain. In particular, I use state-of-the-art video analysis techniques to track locomotion, head movements and whisker movements. Whisker movements, in particular, are one of the fastest mammalian behaviours and some mammals can even control their whiskers with the same precision and sensitivity as the human hand. Whiskers are difficult to study as they are very small, numerous and can move very quickly (up to 25 Hz in mice). Therefore, I use specialist image processing software to measure them precisely. In this way, I have quantified the movements of whiskers in many animals, including rats, mice, opossums, porcupines, harbour seals and sea lions. By looking at fine-scale movements of whisker control and locomotion I can glimpse insights into neural control, muscular control and even the evolution of sensory control. In particular my research focuses on answering questions in the following areas: i) the function of sensory behaviours; ii) the development of locomotion and sensing; iii) the evolution of touch sensing; iv) whisker muscle anatomy; and v) the effects of neurodegeneration on sensing and locomotion.