Active in both the lab and in the field
Our research focuses on the interactions between animal (including human) cognition, ecology and social behaviour within an evolutionary framework.
We investigate both proximate and ultimate questions, in the lab and in the field, in order to understand the mechanisms, development, adaptive value and evolution of animal cognition.
Staff experimentally investigate personality and leadership in birds, cognitive bias in hamsters and rhesus macaques and the neural mechanisms of somatosensation, olfaction and emotional behaviour. We are active in the field and engage in international collaborative projects in Puerto Rico, South Africa, the U.S. and Australia studying rhesus macaques, baboons, samango monkeys and birds.
Case study highlight
Developing attention bias as a novel measure of welfare in captive macaques – Dr Emily Bethell
(Details to follow)
Current MPhil projects
- To mix or not to mix? Evaluating breeding performance in mixed species bird enclosures within European zoos – Yvette Foulds
- The effect of genotype on attention bias in rhesus macaques, Macaca mulatta, as a welfare indicator – Isabelle Szott
- What is Neutral?: Studying attention bias in Rhesus Macaques, Macaca mulatta, towards three different facial expressions – Harriet Thatcher
Recent PhD projects
- Social relationships and social skills of young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in captivity – Samina H. Farooqi, 2013
Opportunities for MPhil/PhD
If you’re interested in an MPhil or a PhD please contact the relevant member of staff below to discuss possible supervision and research direction.
If you are interested in our MSc programme, see the course fact file: Primate Behaviour and Conservation (MSc).
Meet the researchers within this group:
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The behaviour of African elephants, Loxodonta africana, at Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa
Dr Nicola Koyama, Prof Serge Wich, Dr Antje Engelhardt
AESOP Erasmus Mundus scholarship, LJMU Matched Funding Scholarship
Hosted by the Centre for Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria and North West Parks Board
Summary of PhD:
Madikwe Game Reserve holds over 1000 elephants, presenting the highest density of elephants in South Africa. I study their behavioural ecology with a special interest to stress-related and aggressive behaviour. Five minute focal animal observations as well as herd scan samples are carried out on known as well as random individuals. Additionally, I collect faecal samples for stress hormone and thyroid hormone analysis and record vocalisations for analysis of fundamental frequency. Satellite collared females provide spatial data for home range and spatial use analysis.
Preliminary results showed that game drive vehicle presence did not increase stress-related or aggressive behaviour in elephants. Data collection is ongoing and will finish at the end of June 2017 upon which faecal samples will be analysed and statistical analysis of all data will be carried out.
I would like to carry on doing field based research of elephants after I finish my PhD.
Attention bias: a new tool for welfare assessment in captive rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta).
Director of studies: Dr Emily Bethell
Additional supervisors: Dr Antje Engelhardt, Dr Craig Wilding
Summary of PhD:
The way humans attend to and interpret information is associated with self-reported feelings of wellbeing and physiological changes neuromodulatory hormones known anxiolytic and anxiogenic functions [1-3]. Laboratory-based cognitive tasks that record responses (e.g. eye-movements or reaction speed) to emotional stimuli have revealed that biases in attention reliably map onto physiological and self-reported measures of affect . Life-history and genetic factors have also been associated with these biases and, in humans, an attention bias profile can be used to identify individuals who are vulnerable to poor psychological health when faced with stressful life events . Previous studies have shown that these methods may be adapted to measure attention bias in non-human primates, providing a new measure of welfare, an area notoriously difficult to assess [4-6]. The study will build on recent work, showing attention bias to be a promising new method of welfare assessment, to validate a state-of-the-art eye-tracking tool to non-invasively assess welfare in captive primates. One-hundred female rhesus macaques will be involved in this part of the study and data collection will occur before and after the macaques’ annual health check, an acutely stressful event. Following this, the next step in non-human primate attention bias research is to understand the underlying biological mechanisms. This is crucial for gaining a rounded understanding of the role of attention bias in the aetiology and maintenance of affect-related disorders in non-human primates. Urinary oxytocin and faecal cortisol samples will be collected from 30 macaques to determine if these hormones correlate with shifts in attention bias.
- Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J. & van IJzendoorn, M.H. (2007) Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: a meta-analytic study, Psychol Bull, 133(1), 1-24.
- Donaldson, Z.R. & Young, L.J. (2008) Oxytocin, vasopressin, and the neurogenetics of sociality, Science, 322, 900-904.
- Ardayfio, P. & Kim, K. (2006) Anxiogenic-like effects of chronic corticosterone in light-dark emergence tasks in mice, Behav Neurosci, 120(2), 249-256.
- Bethell, E.J., Holmes, A., McLarnon, A. & Semple S. (2012b) Evidence that emotion mediates social attention in rhesus macaques, PloS ONE, 7(8), e44387.
- Bethell, E.J., Holmes, A. & Semple, A. (2012a) Cognitive bias in a non-human primate: husbandry procedures influence cognitive indicators of psychological well-being in captive rhesus macaques, Anim Welfare, 21(2), 185-195.
- Bethell, E.J., Holmes, A., McLarnon, A. & Semple, S. (2016) Emotion evaluation and response slowing in a non-human primate: New directions for cognitive bias measures of animal emotion?, Behav Sci, 6(1), 2, doi:10.3390/bs6010002.
I want to continue to work improving the welfare of captive non-human primates, both in the UK and abroad, through research and working direct with animals and people in zoos and laboratories.
18 papers found
A positive touch: C-tactile afferent targeted skin stimulation carries an appetitive motivational value
Pawling R, Trotter PD and McGlone FP and Walker SC
A protocol for training group-housed rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to cooperate with husbandry and research procedures using positive reinforcement
Kemp C, Thatcher H, Farningham D, Witham C, MacLarnon A, Holmes A and Semple S and Bethell EJ
Cellular mechano-environment regulates the mammary circadian clock
Yang N, Williams J, Pekovic-Vaughan V, Wang P, Olabi S, McConnell J, Gossan N, Hughes A, Cheung J and Streuli CH and Meng Q-J
Circadian Disruptions in the Myshkin Mouse Model of Mania Are Independent of Deficits in Suprachiasmatic Molecular Clock Function
Timothy JWS, Klas N, Sanghani HR, Al-Mansouri T, Hughes ATL, Kirshenbaum GS, Brienza V, Belle MDC, Ralph MR and Clapcote SJ and Piggins HD
C-tactile afferent stimulating touch carries a positive affective value
Pawling R, Cannon PR and McGlone FP and Walker SC
C-tactile afferents: Cutaneous mediators of oxytocin release during affiliative tactile interactions?
Walker SC, Trotter PD, Swaney WT and Marshall A and Mcglone FP