This page reports on some of the meetings LivLABS has organised, showcasing the science of the universities based around Liverpool.
Perspectives on animal personality – a successful LivLabs meeting despite the snow!
On 28th February, the University of Chester hosted a meeting focused on the intriguing subject of animal personality. Despite strikes and snow, around 25 of us managed to brave the elements to convene at the main Parkgate Road campus in Chester. This meeting enabled us to both share recent research findings and to discuss best practice in this field in a supportive environment. Our speakers comprised both researchers and postgraduate research students from various departments across all three institutions, with talks spanning a broad range of species, from prawns to donkeys!
Gouldian finches: facial colours indicate personality types: red-heads are more aggressive, socially dominant, but vulnerable to social stress.
Dr Claudia Mettke-Hofmann from Liverpool John Moores University started off proceedings by presenting results from her lab group’s innovative behavioural experiments on captive Gouldian finches (colourful Australian passerine birds) at Liverpool John Moore’s University. Their exciting conclusion, that it pays for these birds to signal their personality type (bold or shy, explorative or not) by their head colour, could have implications for social group formation in wild populations, as well as for our understanding of the significance of colour polymorphisms in other species. Next, Dr Chrissy Stanley from the University of Chester gave an overview of her work on the ontogeny of personality using cockroaches as a model species. She highlighted the importance of studies where personality can be assessed at various developmental stages in order to improve our understanding of the adaptive benefits of personality.
After a much needed hot drink, four postgraduate research students presented their recent research findings. Firstly, Stephanie Harris (University of Liverpool) showed how field research on Antarctic seabirds has elucidated a link between personality traits and foraging behaviour. Daniel Maskrey (University of Liverpool) then presented his Master’s dissertation work on personality in rockpool prawns, followed by Georgie Eccles (LJMU) who reported the most recent results from her work with Dr Claudia Mettke-Hofmann on neophobic reactions to novel food sources in the Gouldian finch. Finally, Sergio Gonzalez Diaz from the psychology department at the University of Chester presented a completed study linking motor laterality in donkeys with personality traits.
We were extremely grateful that so many people ventured out to Chester on one of the snowiest days of the year and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to discuss such a wide range of approaches to the study of personality. Thanks to all our speakers for their hard work in preparing these talks and for providing a platform for our discussions. As always, a trip to the pub crowned off the day splendidly!
LivLab Meeting “Sexual Signalling” 22nd November 2017, University of Liverpool
The latest LivLAB meeting was hosted by Dr Minna Lyons from the Department of Phychology of the University of Liverpool on the 22nd November. The theme of this meeting was “Sexual Signals” and we heard interesting talks from research being carried out at the University of Liverpool, John Mores and Northhumbria University. The afternoon started off with Dr. Sarah Roberts from the Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution Group of the University of Liverpool to introduce us to the information content of urinary scent marks in male house mice. Male house mice use scent marks to advertise their status and territory ownership and females can gain information about males by investigating these scent marks. With carefully designed experiments she could identify that females are using so called Major Urinary Proteins (MUP) in the urine to individually identify males and are able to remember individual male scent marks only after one encounter. Sarah identified one MUP, “Darcin”, which acts as a male pheromone and females prefer male urine containing this specific protein. Just like the hero in the novel Pride and Prejudice female house mice cannot resist “Darcin-males” which made it easy for Sarah and her colleagues to find the adequate name for the protein.
The mouse version of Darcin was the ideal transition to the next speaker Dr. Nick Neave from Northhumbria University who was talking about the attraction of movements in humans. He presented very interesting results from studies using dancing avatars. He showed women videos of dancing avatars to rate their attractiveness. With this neat experimental design, he could rule out confounding factors of attractiveness such as size or appearance of the dancer. It was a very entraining talk and he also gave important advice for men in the audience how to dance during the next night out.
Humans continued to be the research focus of Dr. Gayle Brewer talks from the University of Liverpool. She investigated if tattoos are sexual signals, advertising the attractiveness of men and women. Again, she used avatars with differently placed tattoos and presented them to women and men participants to rate their attractiveness. Interestingly, she explained, that in general men tattoo body parts which are visible, such as arms and legs, whereas women tend to tattoo body parts which can be hidden under clothes.
After a short coffee and cake break we heard from Dr. Nicola Koyama from John Moores University how the appearance of women changes during ovulation. She analysed pictures of students before and during ovulation to analyse their use of make-up and clothes. She found that women used more make-up and preferred to wear shorter more “sexier” clothes while ovulating. This was supported by a questionnaire where participants reported more sexual thoughts during ovulation. This adds to the growing number of interesting studies showing ovulatory shifts in women.
The last speaker in this fantastic line-up was Dr. Kieran Pounder to talk about the complexity of scent marks in rats. In contrast to mice, we know very little about scent marking in rats. In his experiments, Kieran found that scent marks consist of two components; the urinary and the preputial content which signals different information to other males and females.
I really enjoyed this meeting which brought together researcher from three different universities interested in sexual signals. It was extremely interesting to see research being done on humans and how much of our behaviours can be explained by comparing us to other species. Overall, this meeting highlights that sexual signals are an important research topic, especially in the Liverpool area.
LivLab Meeting “Social Networks” 3rd April 2017, University of Chester
The 3rd official LivLabs Meeting took place at the University of Chester hosted by Dr. Christina Stanley. The theme of the meeting was Social Network Analysis and Christina was able to compile an amazing program to showcase her main research area. We all gathered at the beautiful University of Chester’s Queen’s Park Campus which is located just across the river Dee from the city centre. The meeting was structured in five talks and a discussion session at the end to highlight how often and how diverse animal behaviour research uses Social Network Analysis (SNA).
The afternoon started with a talk by the invited speaker Dr. Josh Firth, a postdoctoral researcher at the Edward Grey Institute, University of Oxford. Josh uses SNA to understand the factors shaping social behaviour and examining the consequences of this for wider ecological processes. He uses a large population of pit-tagged birds in Wytham woods near Oxford. During the winter pit-tag readers integrated in feeders, which are located throughout the forest, record all visits and associations between individuals within winter flocks can be observed. Using SNA Josh was able to show that individuals associate with certain individuals and that this association during the winter predicts where individuals will breed the next summer. Furthermore he experimentally manipulated the social network of the entire population and again found that these manipulations of the social network carried over to the next breeding season.
Next, a serious of four talks emphasised how LivLabs members use SNA in their research. Dr Achaz von Hardenberg, from the University of Chester, showed that SNA are a powerful tool to study grooming behaviour in Alpine Marmots. Dr. Christina Stanley gave us an overview on how SNA can be applied to conservation science and can help to monitor and understand wildlife dynamics. Dr Kristine Meise, from the University of Liverpool, followed with a talk about multispecies networks and communities in African Herbivores. The final talk by Theresa Jones, a Phd student at the University of Liverpool, highlighted how SNA in combination with GPS data can help to understand foraging movements and the potential for social information use during foraging in Australian gannets.
The broad appeal of SNA makes it a universal tool to understand animal behaviour. The meeting showcased the diverse applications of SNA which can range from understanding individual behaviours to understanding population dynamics and social information use. The meeting ended with an open discussion round where we argued about common pitfalls of the SNA approach such as sample size and the usage of multiple networks to conclude on social dynamics. I was very impressed by the research carried out by LivLab members and I learned a lot about SNA which, especially with current technological advances, gives us an increasingly detailed understanding of animal movements and social behaviour. I am looking forward to the next LivLabs meeting hosted by JMU Liverpool.
Dr Josh Firth
Dr Achaz von Hardenberg
Dr. Christina Stanley
Dr. Kristine Meise