Our work concerns the study of spatial cognition – a subject that not only has a fundamental importance to animals’ survival and success, but also acts as a model for the study of sensory ecology, learning and memory. Our research is split into two overlapping, core themes that use an integrated approach of empirical and theoretical work to investigate how animals sense their surroundings, and how the gained information is learned, remembered and used to orient.
This theme aims to discover how different sensory systems gain information from their surroundings and how this information is used. We are especially interested in how spatial information is acquired using non-visual sensory systems, in particular the lateral line of fish (in collaboration with Sheryl Coombs, BGSU, USA) and more recently, magnetoreception (in collaboration with John Phillips, Virginia State University, USA) and the electrosensory system (in collaboration with Gerhard von der Emde, Bonn University, Germany).
Past research has focused on the way that animals orient across two dimensions and the vertical axis of space has largely been ignored; yet the real world is three-dimensional (3D). There are quantitative and qualitative reasons why space is likely to be encoded in the brain differently when all of the axes of space are considered. We fish as model animals to explore how 3D space is represented and used to orient (tasks that are highly complex for humans and AI systems).
In addition to our core research, we are interested in broad questions that feed into the field of navigation and that cross disciplines. Currently, we collaborate in projects that range from sensory biology, neuroethology and cognition to behavioural ecology, collective behaviour, biomechanics and development.