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Lateralisation, predator avoidance and survival in an invasive fish - NERC GW4+ DTP


Project Description

Invasive species have a huge impact on the structure of natural communities and are a major source of biodiversity loss. Physiological, morphological and reproductive traits associated with the likelihood that a species will become invasive have been studied extensively; much less attention has been focused on behavioural traits. A widespread behavioural phenomenon is that of lateralisation (or more casually, ‘handedness’), a behavioural side bias resulting from divided cognitive function between brain hemispheres. A major hypothesis for why lateralisation has been favoured over evolutionary time is that it allows individuals to divide attention between tasks (Rogers 2000). Here we will explore how lateralisation, an individual-level cognitive trait, is associated with the success of a highly invasive and ecologically damaging freshwater fish species, the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). The project will test whether lateralisation is favoured in high predation habitats, both within its native range and in areas where this fish in invasive.

Colonising novel habitats imposes a high cognitive demand on non-native species as they learn to adapt to novel predators. The study will combine field work within the guppy’s native range (Trinidad) and in one region where it is invasive (Australia), having been introduced to control mosquito populations throughout the tropics. Guppies show lateralisation, have a greater cognitive ability when lateralised (Dadda et al. 2015), and lateralisation is important in their interactions with predators (De Santi et al. 2000). At Bristol, the student will develop a field based assay for lateralisation, with testing at the University of Exeter. This will then be used to systematically test whether lateralisation is stronger in high versus low predation habitats in Trinidad. A novel method for assessing predation risk, using environmental DNA (eDNA), will be developed and used to quantify predation risk at each collection site. Further experiments will explore the relationship between lateralisation, social tendencies and the use of social information in avoiding predators. State-of-the-art computer tracking software will be used to quantify behaviour of fish at a fine scale. The student will then compare lateralisation within this native range to guppies in Australia, again exploring the relationship with predation risk.

The project will suit a candidate wanting to work at the intersection of ecology, cognition and behaviour, interested in a project that applies basic research (lateralisation, predator-prey interactions) to a major threat to biodiversity (invasive species). Motivation to work independently in tropical field conditions is essential.

The project will give the student training at a wide range of scales from river-scale field surveys to highly-controlled behavioural experiments to molecular methods (eDNA). The student will be trained in handling and individually marking fish, experimental design, behavioural observation and statistical analysis. Laboratory experiments of social behaviour will be filmed and analysed using state-of-the-art computer-vision software. Training will be provided in sampling freshwaters for eDNA, sample preservation, extraction of DNA sequences and data analysis to identify predator species at each sampling site. The student will attend at least one international animal behaviour conference (e.g. ISBE).

Prof Darren Croft (Exeter University) and Dr. Culum Brown (Macquarie University, Sydney) are also supervisors on this project.

***Please get in touch by email before the 30th December 2017*** The final deadline is the 7th January 2018.

Funding Notes

We’re looking for candidates for the NERC GW4+ PhD competition. If you are a top student (first class degree, masters, paper(s) already published or in press) and interested in the work we do (see ioannougroup.com), please get in touch.

The project will suit a candidate wanting to work at the intersection of ecology, cognition and behaviour, interested in a project that applies basic research (lateralisation, predator-prey interactions) to a major threat to biodiversity (invasive species). Motivation to work independently in tropical field conditions is essential.

References

Dadda M, Agrillo C, Bisazza A, Brown C. 2015. Laterality enhances numerical skills in the guppy, Poecilia reticulata. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 9:285. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00285.
Rogers LJ. 2000. Evolution of Hemispheric Specialization: Advantages and Disadvantages. Brain Lang. 73:236–253. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/brln.2000.2305.
De Santi A, Bisazza A, Cappelletti M, Vallortigara G. 2000. Prior exposure to a predator influences lateralization of cooperative predator inspection in the guppy, Poecilia reticulata. Ital. J. Zool. 67:175–178. doi: 10.1080/11250000009356312.
Holway DA, Suarez A V. 1999. Animal behavior: an essential component of invasion biology. Trends Ecol. Evol. 14:328–330. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5347(99)01636-5.
Camacho-Cervantes M, Garcia CM, Ojanguren AF, Magurran AE. 2014. Exotic invaders gain foraging benefits by shoaling with native fish. R. Soc. Open Sci. 1:140101. doi: 10.1098/rsos.140101.

How good is research at University of Bristol in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.60

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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