My research group focuses on the cognitive processes and sensory mechanisms by which animals navigate and migrate. While my principle focus is at the level of the whole organism I also incorporate aspects of neurobiology, molecular biology, and physics to identify the environmental cues, sensory pathways and mechanisms used by animals to decide how, when and where to move. My work also operates in a comparative framework as I compare and contrast across species, taxa, age class, spatial scale and sensory mechanisms to reveal how natural selection has acted to shape navigation behaviour in different animal groups.
The navigation map of migratory birds
The answer to the question of how migratory birds return to the same nest every year after journeys of thousands of miles continues to elude scientists. So far, because it is difficult to study migration in the field, most work has been done in laboratory settings using directed migratory restlessness in Emlen funnels as a proxy for migratory behaviour. Our lab addresses this challenge directly however, and we have developed methods to successfully study aspects of migration in the wild. This has resulted in significant breakthroughs in bridging the gap between field and laboratory. We use a range of tracking methods to study behaviour in response to sensory manipulations; from global satellite tracking of complete migration, to radio tracking the departure directions of small songbirds at stop over sites, in addition to calling on the “controlled” environment of the Emlen funnel. We have established model systems for work on migratory passerines at field sites across Europe and have demonstrated a crucial role for olfactory cues in the migration of adult songbirds and gulls, as well as age and location specific reliance on magnetic cues. Additionally, we have demonstrated that juvenile songbirds, previously thought to navigate based purely on an inherited compass direction, are capable of correcting for displacements in some circumstances. A current project is funded by a BBSRC,responsive mode grant and post doc Florian Mueller is investigating how the magnetic field is used to calculate location, building on our discovery that declination (the difference between geographical and magnetic north) is a component in the navigational map (Chernetsov et al. 2017).
Orientation and Navigation in bats
Bats are remarkably under studied with regard to orientation, navigation and spatial memory, but I have re-launched the study of long distance navigation in this taxa I have demonstrated that bats use the Earth’s magnetic field as a compass, and that this magnetic compass sense is calibrated through an interaction with the sunset. We are now investigating the sensory basis of magnetoreception in these animals. Whilst in birds, it is know that magnetoreception is visually dependent; in bats no such mechanism has been demonstrated, but we have produced evidence of a mechanism based on magnetite: magnetic iron particles in sensory cells. Additionally, through a NERC new investigator grant we demonstrated that bats use polarized light cues as part of their compass system to calibrate the magnetic compass. Ongoing work in collaboration with the IZW in Berlin is investigating the navigation mechanisms of migratory bats.
Sensory systems and spatial memory
In contrast to navigation from unfamiliar areas, in a familiar place, animals learn and remember spatial locations by constructing a “cognitive map” of the relationship between landmarks in their environment. The theory of the cognitive map has been studied extensively by testing rats in mazes and by observing brain scans of humans, but has focused almost exclusively on the visual sense. There are sensory systems other than vision that can tell the animal the location of landmarks in space, for example, electro-location in weakly electric fish. My lab has started to investigate the way these fish build up a picture of their environment using their electric sense, and how this compares and contrasts with the way they learn about space using vision. This has implications for understanding the way the brain integrates information from different sensory modalities. A wider focus of this research path is to understand how age influences spatial memory. Spatial memory tasks have been used in animals to investigate ageing and understanding the interaction between ageing, sensory systems and memory has the potential to advance our understanding of mental health and wellbeing.
Current lab members
Ingo Schiffner (Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow)
Florian Packamor (Postdoctoral researcher)
Charlotte Griffiths (PhD student)
James Blane (MScRes student)
Previous lab members
Stefan Greif (Postdoctoral researcher, Queen’s University Belfast)
Lorrain Chivers (Postdoctoral researcher, Queen’s University Belfast)
Dmitry Kishkinev (Postdoctoral researcher, Queen’s University Belfast, Bangor University)
Katherine Snell (Co-supervisor, PhD student Copenhagen University)
Kyriacos Kareklas (PhD student, Queen’s University Belfast)
Claire McAroe (PhD Student, Queen’s University Belfast)
Christian Voigt, Oliver Lindecke, IZW Berlin, Germany
Anna Gagliardo, University of Pisa, Italy
Chris Hewson, BTO, UK
Room: 531 Brambell
Phone: +44 (0)1248 382344
Web: Bangor Animal Navigation Group Google Scholar Researchgate
My research and teaching interests fall broadly in the area of animal behaviour and sensory biology. I am the course co-ordinator for the Zoology with Animal Behaviour degree (C3D3) and teach on several animal behaviour focused modules, as well as ornithology. My research questions focus the cognitive processes and sensory mechanisms by which animals navigate and migrate. While my principle focus is at the level of the whole organism I also incorporate aspects of neurobiology, molecular biology, and physics to identify the environmental cues, sensory pathways and mechanisms used by animals to decide how, when and where to move. My work also operates in a comparative framework as I compare and contrast across species, taxa, age class, spatial scale and sensory mechanisms to reveal how natural selection has acted to shape navigation behaviour in different animal groups.
2017-current, Senior Lecturer, Bangor University
2016-2017, Lecturer, Bangor University
2011-2016, Lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast
2009-2010, Research scientist, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
2006-2008, Marie Curie Outgoing International fellow, Princeton University and University of Leeds
2002-2005, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Leeds
1999-2002, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Nebraska
1994-1998, DPhil, Oxford University
1990-1993, BSc (Hons), University of Nottingham
Animal Physiology, Behaviour and Conservation
2018-2020: MSCA COFUND fellowship: Experimental Systems Analysis of the Homing Pigeon’s Navigational Map. £117147
2018-2021: BBSRC responsive mode BB/R001081/1: Unravelling the map and compass in bird navigation: £373880
2014-2017: Leverhulme trust research grant: The mystery of bird migration, testing hypotheses of true navigation. £159,214.
2014: Royal Society Early Career research grant: From quantum physics to global migration: testing the radical pair magnetic compass of migrating birds in a natural setting. £14,918.
2014: Northern Ireland Environment Agency Challenge fund: gull movements and disease. £11,660.
2013: British Ornithologists’ Union Bursary: Age dependant foraging in Kittiwakes. £2500.
2013: NERC New Investigator Scheme NE/K000381/1:Movement ecology: the role of environmental cues and sensory mechanisms in bat navigation. £72,488.
2013-2016: Northern Ireland Department of Education and Learning PhD Studentship. “Personality and spatial memory in the weakly electric fish G. petersii”.
2012-2015: Northern Ireland Department of Education and Learning PhD Studentship. “The role of ageing in spatial memory: a comparison across vertebrates”.
2008-11: NSF IOS-0744704 “The nature of the true navigation map of migratory songbirds”. Due to institutional constraints, Martin Wikelski was PI but I played the lead role in writing this grant. $262,134.
2006-08: Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship, Princeton University USA, and University of Leeds, UK. €253,225.
2006-07: North American Bat Conservation Partnership/ Bat Conservation International. Migration routes of the Red Bat, Lasiurus borealis. $5000.
Course co-ordinator, Zoology with Animal Behaviour
BNS 3004, Advances in Behaviour (Module co-ordinator)
BSX 3157 Ornithology
BSC 3070 Dissertation
BSX 2018 Behavioural Ecology
BSX1030 Practical skills 1
BSC 1028 Tutorials
Charlotte Griffiths, PhD
James Blane, MScRes
Oliver Lindecke, PhD (external, based at IZW, Berlin)