Prof Martin Stevens  |  01326 259358

Group Leader

Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology

SERSF Building (room 1.21), Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE. UK.

More About Martin


2017 Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology

2015 Associate Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology

2012-2014 BBSRC David Philips Senior Research Fellow

2009-2012 Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge

2009-2012 BBSRC David Phillips Senior Research Fellow, Cambridge

2006-2009 Research Fellow, Girton College, Cambridge

2006 PhD Bristol


See publications page for full list and Google Scholar for list plus citations.


Stevens, M. Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead. 2016. Oxford University Press.

Stevens, M. Sensory Ecology, Behaviour, and Evolution. 2013. Oxford University Press.

Stevens, M. & Merilaita, S. (Editors). 2011. Animal Camouflage: From Mechanisms to Function. Cambridge University Press.

Journal Publications

Over 100 full journal publications in a range of journals spanning Nature, PNAS, Nature Communications, BMC Biology, Proceedings B, and many others.

Main and Recent External Grants

01/10/2017 – 30/09/2020: BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award (part funded by QinetiQ), £376,743. How to optimise imperfect camouflage.

01/09/2017 – 01/02/2018: Racing Foundation and British Horseracing Authority, £43,542. Horse vision, obstacle visibility, and safety.

01/12/2016 – 31/05/2017: BBSRC Pathfinder, £11,000. Imaging Animal Vision.

2017: Multiple Industry Grants, ca£45,000.

01/03/2017 – 31/03/2017: EasyFix, £3,175. Horse vision and fence design.

10/08/2016 – 24/08/2016: Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo – FAPESP, £2,268. Visiting research position at University of São Paulo.

01/10/2014 – 30/09/2017: BBSRC, £371,695. Predator learning of camouflage types. (with Co-I John Skelhorn, Newcastle University).

01/08/2012 – 30/09/2014: BBSRC, £520,000. Predator Vision and Avian Egg Camouflage.

01/10/2009 – 03/03/2015: BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship: £1,002,266. Predator vision and defensive coloration: from mechanism to function.

Invited Lectures

Public Lectures

Royal Institution (London), Royal Geographical Society, Army and Navy Club (Washington DC), Hay-on-Wye Book Festival, Brighton Science Festival, Café Scientifique, Penzance Literary Festival, and others.

Academic Lectures

UK: University of Sussex (Biology & Environmental Science); University of Exeter (Psychology); Royal Holloway (Psychology); Newcastle University (Neuroscience); University of Oxford (Zoology, EGI); University of Edinburgh (Institute for Evolutionary Biology); University of Bristol (Vision Institute and School of Biological Sciences); University of Bath (Biology & Biochemistry); International Primatological Conference, Edinburgh (2008).

Mainland Europe: Stockholm University (Zoology) Sweden; University of Jyväskylä (Biological and Environmental Sciences), Finland; Uppsala University (Ecology & Evolution), Sweden; Bern University (Institute of Ecology & Evolution), Switzerland; European Congress on Behavioural Biology, Dijon, France (2008); European Society for Evolutionary Biology, Lisbon, Portugal (2013); University of Geneva (Genetics and Evolution), Switzerland (2015); Wiko Berlin, Animal Coloration Meeting.

USA: Wake Forest University (Biology); University of Nebraska (Biology); University of Chicago (Ecology and Evolution); Stanford University (Biology); Princeton University (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology); New York University (Anthropology); City University New York, Hunter College (Psychology); University of California Davis (Biology); University of California Santa Cruz (Biology); University of California LA (Biology); Smithsonian/Army and Navy Club, Washington DC, USA.

Asia: National University of Singapore (Biology); International Primatological Conference, Kyoto, Japan (2010); Integrative Behavioral Biology, Xi’an, China (2011, Keynote); International Symposium on Avian Brood Parasitism, Hainan, China (2012); Camouflage Cultures: surveillance, communities, aesthetics, animals (2013), Sydney, Australia.

South America: Centre for Marine Biology, University of São Paulo

Media and Outreach

I have and currently work with a wide range of companies and organisations, including: Natural History Museum, London; California Academy of Sciences; Frieze Art Foundation; BBC; Rentokil Initial; QinetiQ; British Horseracing Authority; British Eventing; Greyhound Board of great Britain; EasyFix; Donkey Sanctuary; National Lobster Hatchery; Bird World; Zoological Lighting Institute.

My work has been covered in a wide range of media including on various occasions on BBC Earth News, the New York Times, the Times, LA Times, Japan Times, USA Today, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Independent, the Australian, Time Magazine, New Scientist, National Geographic, MSNBC, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Scotland, CBC Radio Canada, NPR Radio USA, German Radio WDR 5, Discovery, Nature, Science, TREE, Proceedings B, Discover, Natural History Magazine, Discovery Canada, Nature News, plus a wide range of national newspapers around the world and internet sites.

TV appearances: BBC 2, Inside the Animal Mind, programme 1 (28 January 2014); BBC1 The One Show (25 February 2014); National Geographic, Jurassic CSI, programme 1 (2011).

I have also been contacted by and appeared in a wide range of other reactive media outlets, including radio programmes of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, CBC Quirks and Quarks, and NPR on topics such as why zebras have stripes and animal camouflage and behaviour. I have also advised a range of organisations including the BBC1 and BBC 2, Channel 4, PBS, and the History Channel on TV programmes, and for other publications such as BBC Gardeners’ World, Smithsonian and various natural history magazines. Some of my research methods have been used in interactive museum exhibitions and school teaching in the USA. I have also helped with art exhibitions related to animal coloration.

I am also currently a BBSRC Schools Regional Champion for the SW for my outreach work to school students.

Dr Anna Hughes

BBSRC Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Anna

The broad research question that I am interested in is how humans and other animals use visual information to search and interact with the world. I have an interdisciplinary background, including aspects of biology, psychology and neuroscience, and my research therefore brings together tools and techniques from these different areas.

During my research associate position at Falmouth, I will be working on a BBSRC/QinetiQ grant which will aim to try to understand how camouflage should be optimised in conditions where a target can be viewed against two or more backgrounds. I’ll be using both touch-screen games with human participants in the laboratory and also larger scale ‘citizen science’ games that will be played online.

I was awarded a BBSRC CASE studentship to complete my PhD at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Dr David Tolhurst and Dr Martin Stevens. My research focused on the concept of motion dazzle: the idea that certain animal patterns may have evolved to protect an animal when in motion, by making it difficult for a predator to accurately track their speed or direction. Classically, motion dazzle has been thought to be caused by high contrast, striking geometric patterns, such as the stripes found on zebra. I found evidence for striped patterns biasing trajectory estimation in human participants. However, I found that targets with other types of low contrast patterning can also be difficult to capture, suggesting that the classical definition of motion dazzle may be too limited.

I have also worked as a Teaching Fellow in Visual Perception at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London and was appointed as a Bye-Fellow at Homerton College (University of Cambridge).

Dr Sarah Paul

Racing Foundation / BHA Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Sarah

I have a background in Behavioural and Sensory Ecology and have worked on a number of species from otters to ladybirds, having recently completed a PhD at the University of Exeter in 2016. Broadly I am interested in understanding how animals interact with and adapt to man-made or human altered environments (i.e. anthropogenically driven change). I am currently a post-doc on the Equine Vision Project, using knowledge about horse vision to understand how horses see obstacles in equine jump sports (jump racing, cross country, and showjumping). The aim of this project is to assess the visibility of obstacles, the effects of light conditions, the use of visual information in training, and of potential distractions during races and events in order to better understand issues related to training and performance, safety, and welfare. Funding for this project comes from the University of Exeter and The Racing Foundation. Our collaborators on this project include the British Horseracing Authority, British Eventing, British ShowJumping, and various other organisations and companies.

Dr Yang Niu

Kunming Institute of Botany Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Yang

I’m interested in the reproduction and survival of alpine plants, focussing on the interaction between plants and their partners (pollinators) and enemies (herbivores).

Currently I’m a visiting postdoctoral researcher investigating the evolution of camouflage in plants. Using herbivore’s colour vision models, I’m examining whether some alpine plants exhibit divergent cryptic colour to optimize background matching. I’m also investigating whether human activity (collection) can act as a potential selective pressure to the evolution of plant camouflage.

I finished my PhD studies (in Prof Hang Sun’ Alpine Plant Diversity Group) from Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2012. During my PhD, I investigated the evolution of sexual system of Cyananthus, a plant genus endemic to Himalayan-Hengduan Mts. with various sexual systems.

During my work at KIB, I focused on the evolution of defensive plant colour under the pressure of herbivores and human activity. Colours are measured in terms of reflectance spectra and digital images, and analysed using various (e.g., pollinators or herbivores) colour vision systems. In the last few years, I used a plant-herbivore system (Corydalis-Parnassius) to investigate the significance of plant camouflage, and revealed that some camouflaged plant indeed has higher survivorship with limited cost.

Emmanuelle Briolat

BBSRC-funded PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Emmanuelle

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Jon Blount

Working on the form and honesty of warning signals in insects.

Current Research

The aim of my PhD project is to investigate the form and function of aposematic signalling in insects, and in particular in Lepidoptera. I am especially interested in exploring the question of honesty in warningly coloured animals, or how the variation in the strength of their aposematic signals relates to the potency of their chemical or physical defences.

To address this problem, I am focusing on a charismatic family of day-flying moths, the burnet moths (Zygaenidae). They represent an ideal system in which to study both intra- and inter-specific variation in signals and defences: burnet moths sequester toxic cyanogenic glycosides from their host-plants and present a range of different colour patterns on their wings, varying both subtly within the Zygaeninae and more dramatically between subfamilies. To analyse signal honesty in the burnet moth system, I will be using a combination of photography, to measure colouration as perceived by potential predators, and toxicity analyses, using specimens collected from Cornwall, Denmark and a range of sites in France. I will also be performing fieldwork experiments with artificial prey, based on the observed variation in burnet moth signals, to tease apart the relative roles of different elements of colour patterns in protecting aposematic prey.

Previous Research

I graduated with a BA in Natural Sciences (Zoology) from the University of Cambridge in 2012. A summer project after my second year, working with Martin Stevens and Alexandra Torok on her startle display project, gave me my first taste of research in the field of sensory ecology. I then went on to work on two quite different short projects in my final year, first studying the relationship between the invasive zebra mussels and killer shrimp, then investigating the genes responsible for cyanogenesis in Heliconius butterflies.

After graduating, I returned to my interests in sensory ecology, studying cuttlefish camouflage patterns as part of a three month internship programme at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. I then worked as a research assistant in Rebecca Kilner’s burying beetle group at Cambridge University, participating in fieldwork, laboratory experiments investigating the interactions of beetles with mites and microbes, and a long term selection experiment exploring the influence of body size on the beetle life cycle and behaviour.

Sara Mynott

NERC-funded PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Sara

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Steven Widdicombe (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Working on the impacts of climate change on intertidal species, camouflage and predation.

Current Research

In September 2014 I embarked on a PhD exploring how climate-related environmental change is affecting intertidal animals. I am particularly interested in how temperature and acidification influences the ability of crustaceans to camouflage, and, in turn, how this impacts their predation risk.

Camouflage is the most widespread way of avoiding predators, but stress can have a major impact on colour change in a number of species, and, as the climate changes, shifts in environmental conditions have the capacity to cause such stress.

I study camouflage in a variety of crustaceans, including common shore crabs, ghost crabs and chameleon prawns. By exposing them to different conditions and photographing them at regular intervals, we can find out how changing seawater properties affects their camouflage.

The photos can be used to model what individuals would look like from their predator’s perspective, and lets us discern whether one set of conditions leaves them more vulnerable to predation than another.

Previous Research

I completed my undergraduate in Environmental Geoscience at the University of Bristol in 2010 and moved into the marine realm, with a masters in Marine Ecology and Environmental Management at Queen Mary University of London in 2012.

My marine research to date has focussed on the temperature-size rule and its fitness trade-offs, as well as the methods used in crustacean fisheries management.

During my MSc, I explored the effect of temperature on the development and fitness of brine shrimp. By rearing the shrimp from cyst to adult, and measuring their size, survivorship and reproductive output, I was able to derive a possible mechanism for the temperature-size rule.

More recently, I conducted research into crustacean fisheries at University Marine Biological Station Millport (UMBSM). Field studies off the Scottish west coast coupled with aquarium studies at UMBSM allowed me to assess both how trap deployment and intraspecific interactions influenced total catch.

Victoria Lee

NERC-funded PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Victoria


Jim Galloway

BBSRC-funded PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Jim

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Nicholas Roberts (University of Bristol), Tom Tregenza (University of Exeter)

Working on the role of vision and visual information in colour change and camouflage in crustaceans.

Current Research

My PhD project aims to examine the role of vision in animals capable of colour change, and how this ability to change colour aids in camouflage. I am specifically looking at the role vision plays in allowing animals capable of colour change to match their background, focussing on crabs and chameleon prawns.

This research will examine how animals capable of changing colour use it to adapt to environmental variation, not just the visual difference in backgrounds, but to changes in light conditions as well.

Previous Research

BSc Biology (Hons), Royal Holloway University of London, 2012 – 2015

I obtained a BSc Biology from Royal Holloway University of London in 2015, where my undergraduate research project tested the potential for DNA Barcoding to be used as a tool for identifying pasitoids of the Short-haired Bumblebee. Following my undergraduate degree, I stayed at Royal Holloway for 3 months as a research assistant on a project examining the phylogeography of the bumblebee parasite Spherularia bombi.

MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology, 2016 – 2017

In September2016 I started an MSc in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter. My research project was with the Sensory Ecology lab, and used Hippolyte varians, the chameleon prawn, and rock gobies to directly examine the effectiveness of camouflage (specifically background matching) as an antipredator defence. This research involved the creation of artificial rockpools with one colour of seaweed, and prawns that both matched and didn’t match the seaweed to see if those that matched had a survival advantage.

Javier Medel Hidalgo

CONICYT Funded PhD Student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Javier

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Andrew Young

Working on camouflage and sexual signals in birds.

Current research

The goal of my PhD research is testing the mechanisms and function of avian plumage camouflage. To address this research, I will use two ground-nesting species in open habitats with a wide distribution, the Eurasian nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) and Eurasian golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria). The general objective of this work is to investigate the colour of these birds’ plumage and determine how their camouflage depends on the environment in which the species inhabit. It will also investigate the different types of camouflage used, in accordance with behaviour, natural history, and visual perception of main predators of these species. This research will divide into three topics: I) Identification of differences that exist in camouflage in a wide variety of habitats, II) determining how the distribution and the characteristics of colour patterns in different regions of the body are optimized in the sexual communication and camouflage, and III) analysis of how changes in habitat by human actions affect may affect camouflage function and value.

My PhD studies are sponsored by the Chilean National Commission for Scientific and Technological Scholarships (CONICYT).

Previous research

During my Bachelor degree in Biological Sciences in the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh) my work focussed on the behaviour, breeding habitat requirements, and migratory movements of austral birds of prey species, such as white-throated hawk (Buteo albigula), rufous-tailed hawk (Buteo ventralis) and Chilean Hawk (Accipiter Chilensis) in a variety of ecosystems, principally in the ecoregion of Valdivian temperate rainforest and Andean foothills of the Atacama Desert.


Jenna Proctor

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Jenna

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Tom Tregenza

Working on the adaptive camouflage of the furrowed crabs and investigating their ability to background match through moulting and behaviour.


Current research:

My project investigates how camouflage can be adapted to allow animals to move freely across environments that are highly variable. These gradual camouflage adaptations are becoming more commonly studied. Previous work by Martin Stevens has found that the European green shore crab (Carcinus maenas) are capable of using a mixture of behavioural colouration matching and consecutive moulting in order to match their carapace colouration to their surrounding environment. While many other intertidal animals are also thought to adopt this technique it has seldom been explored. I hope to use a mixture of field and laboratory experiments to investigate this strategy in the understudied furrowed crab (Xantho hydrophilus).

I plan to investigate how well the furrowed crab can visually camouflage their carapaces through background matching. I will set up tanks with various colours and degrees of brightness and allow crabs to moult while on these backgrounds. I will record their changes using digital camouflage and image analysis. This will allow me to assess the colour changes of each crab.

Previous research:

I graduated from the University of Exeter in July 2016 where I completed a BSc in Zoology. I carried out a final year project that focused on the trail following behaviour of the common garden snail (Cornu aspersum). I aimed to investigate whether the slime trail of the snail acted as an information channel for other snails. I kept the snails in varying conditions and assessed whether this impacted other snails’ decisions of whether to follow a particular slime trail or not.

In the summer of 2015 I undertook a short project at Cambridge University. This project was to review and compile existing literature and data to investigate male weaponry across all taxa.




Sam Green

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Sam

Supervisors: Dr Martin Stevens (Primary), Dr Alastair Wilson

Working on the colour change and behavioural camouflage strategies used by the chameleon prawn (Hippolyte varians).

Current Research:

My research focuses on the chameleon prawn (Hippolyte varians), a species with a wide variety of coloured morphs, many of which subjectively show close resemblance to the seaweed that they are found on. Previous studies have shown that chameleon prawns can seemingly change colour over time to match novel algal substrates and that this colour change likely involves the expansion of pigments within specialised chromatophore cells.  Research has also shown that the species undergoes a circadian rhythm of colour change between a coloured day form and a blue ‘nocturne’. These characteristics could camouflage the chameleon prawn within the algal beds, potentially providing valuable protection against predators.

My aim is to investigate the behavioural and colour change strategies used for camouflage by chameleon prawns and how the combination of both strategies can give a competitive edge.  To investigate the behavioural elements my research will consist of determining natural distributions of coloured morphotypes and conducting choice experiments between algal substrates in the lab. For the physiological strategies we will be testing the degree to which colour change can occur in this species, and determining if this ability varies between morphotypes. I also plan to explore the potential link between diet and colour change using natural and artificial substrates. The analysis of colouration and luminance matching will be done using image analysis, through recording objective measures of reflectance and colour, then modelling colour change and camouflage to fish visual systems.

Additionally, among the various coloured morphotypes there exists a transparent morph. Compared to the other morphotypes, very little experimental work has been conducted on this morph and so there is scope for investigation to further understand the ecology and efficiency of camouflage of transparent prawns, and whether they represent a different strategy to the coloured individuals.

Previous Research:

I graduated from the University of Exeter in July 2016 (BSc Zoology 1st Class). My undergraduate research project was supervised by Professor Dave Hodgson investigating the use of fluorescence as a deterrent against avian predators by the common garden snail (Cornu aspersum).

I have interned with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, gaining an accreditation under their licence to work with the sand lizard (Lacerta agalis), and as part of a research team in ZSL’s badger-cattle contact project in Cornwall. I have also worked as a research assistant in a behavioural study looking at the effects of female biased sex ratios on mating and fighting in flour beetles (Gnatocerus cornutus). During spring 2012 I spent time with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, The Gambia. I participated in biodiversity surveys and community engagement projects, and gained insight into conflicts between conservation aims and local communities.

I developed an interest in the field of sensory ecology after taking Martin’s module in the final year of my undergraduate degree and this has inspired me to conduct my research masters in this field. In my future research I will combine my interests in both conservation and sensory ecology to develop more effective conservation strategies and tools.





Emily Carter

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Emily

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Tom Tregenza

Working on how noise pollution affects colour change and camouflage in marine crustaceans.

Current research:

My project focusses on colour change and anti-predator behaviour in the common shore crab (Carcinus maenus) and how this may be affected by anthropogenic noise (e.g. from shipping).

The shore crab is renowned for its ability to change colour and exhibit background matching, camouflaging with its environment as a way of evading predation. Recently, work has assesses the time scale of this colour change and the effectiveness at matching a variety of backgrounds, including through vision models of potential predators, like birds. Despite this body of work, there are still gaps in our understanding of how this may be affected by unnatural external factors and the possible consequences for the species.

As is the case for many species, the shore crab’s environment has changed dramatically over the years, with a huge increase in the presence of artificial marine noise, particularly from shipping. Past work has demonstrated that such noise disrupts foraging, elevates stress levels, and negatively affects predator avoidance in the shore crab, begging the question as to whether the antipredator technique of colour change is also influenced by this. I aim to address this question through a series of experiments, exposing individuals to anthropogenic noise now found in the marine/coastal environment and assessing their colour change behaviour and movement, both under standard conditions and in response to the presence of a potential predator.

Previous research:

I graduated from the University of Exeter in July 2017 with a First Class Honours degree in Zoology with Study Abroad. For my undergraduate thesis I used published data from databases including the IUCN and PanTHERIA to assess the relationship between primate extinction risk and a range of intrinsic traits, as well as human population density. The aim was to further our understanding of why certain species are more vulnerable to extinction than others as this type of knowledge is important for the development of effective conservation strategies.

During the year I spent studying abroad in the USA at Coastal Carolina University (South Carolina), I also designed and lead a project testing the selfish herd hypothesis in wild fiddler crabs (Uca pugnax, pugilator and minax). Herds were analysed in terms of composition and individual positioning with regards to waving rate (to attract females), feeding rate and size. As individuals at the centre are less exposed to predators, being surrounded by conspecifics and so reducing their individual chance of predation, they are able to exhibit these behaviours at a greater rate, despite the fact that they increase conspicuousness and consequent predation risk. Individuals therefore position themselves in such a way that they can maximise these behaviours while keeping their individual predation risk to a minimum by sharing the risk with neighbours. Carrying out this project sparked my desire to begin a career in research, while a class I took in my final year at the University of Exeter, taught by Martin Stevens, ignited my interest in the field of sensory ecology.




Charlotte Jeffers

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Charlotte

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Regan Early

Working on the impact of coral bleaching on camouflage efficacy.

Current research:

The aims of my research are to examine whether coral bleaching, as a result of environmental change, impacts the efficacy of camouflage in species of reef-fish and reef predators.

Many species of fish have evolved well-matched or disruptive camouflage as a defence against being detected by predators. However, as sea temperatures increase and they are exposed to environmental stressors, coral eject their symbiotic dinoflagellates resulting in a loss of colour. As the corals bleach, the adaptive colouration of many fish species may become mismatched, theoretically making them more obvious and at risk of predation.

Despite the vast quantities of research in the areas of climate change and camouflage, there has been very little research examining how climate change will affect camouflage. My research aims to examine this, looking at how it impacts both prey and predator camouflage. I will be producing computer detection programmes and using human participants to compare camouflage efficacy against bleached and unbleached coral from the perspective of dichromatic and trichromatic visual systems.

Previous research:

I graduated from the University of Exeter in July 2017 with a BSc in Zoology. As an undergraduate, my final year research project examined causes and consequences of anogenital distance variation in meerkat pups. The research aimed to examine whether the length of anogenital distance was influenced by maternal effects, such as dominance status or weight, and whether individuals with longer anogenital distance, and therefore higher levels of testosterone exposure in utero, had increased weight and survival at 3 and 12 months of age.

My interest in sensory ecology first became apparent in my second year at the University of Exeter when studying biology of birds and learning about camouflage and mimicry. This interest was then further cemented in my third year whilst studying the sensory ecology module with Martin Stevens.

In the future, I hope to continue researching how environmental changes impact sensory systems and signalling.




Maria Watson

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Maria

Supervisors: Tamara Galloway, Martin Stevens

Investigating how the ingestion of microplastics affects the anti-predator mechanisms of colour change for camouflage (background matching), and rapid movement in the marine crustacean Carcinus maenas.

Current research:

My research focuses on the anti-predator mechanisms used by the European green shore crab (Carcinus maenas) – and whether the ingestion of microplastics commonly found within the marine environment affect the speed and efficacy of anti-predatory behaviours. I aim to investigate this through a series of experiments – exposing individuals to microplastics administered through processed mussel feed, under standard conditions and in response to a model predator.

Carcinus maenas use consecutive carapace moults and behavioural colour change in order to achieve carapace colouration that reflects their environmental background, enabling them to appear camouflaged and reduce the likelihood of predation. As the early life-stage megalopa, Carcinus maenas primarily use rapid movement to evade predation – both of which likely incur high energetic costs.

Since the invention of synthetic polymers in 1907, there has been an exponential increase in the presence of plastics within the marine environment. It has been widely established that plastics affect marine fauna primarily through ingestion, which is known to adversely affect growth and reproduction through the reduction of available energy. Synthetic polymer densities and buoyancy also vary in accordance to their composition, often differing to that of sea water. So, when ingested these not only lead to a reduction in energy reserves, but may also alter species critical sinking densities. Thus, changing the individual’s buoyancy and potentially reduce predator avoidance.

Previous research:

I graduated from the University of Exeter in July 2017 having completed a BSc in Zoology with Honours. During my undergraduate degree I fortunate enough to help lead the research project ‘Mission Manu’ to the Peruvian Amazon. The aim of this project was to compare herptile survey methods (pitfall, visual encounter surveys on/off transect, and leaf litter surveys), in order to establish whether any biases exist and collate data on which are best suited to different scenarios. Carrying out this project so early on in my educational development ignited my passion for scientific research.

Under the supervision of Dr Matthew Witt, I went on to conduct my undergraduate research project on the spatial distribution of micro- and macroplastics in Cornish beach sediments. The aim of this research was to compare the 3-dimensional distribution of micro- and macroplastics across subtidal, intertidal, and hightide watermarks at depths of 0, 10, 25, and 50cm. This data was late collated to create basic models of plastic distribution based on form, colour, size, and location. Beach orientation, substrate, and proximity to combined sewer overflow outlets were also taken into consideration.

During my final year of undergraduate study, I took Professor Steven’s module in Sensory Ecology and was introduced to Professor Galloway’s work on plastic ecotoxicity. The combination of these fields peaked my interest in the widespread effects of plastic pollution in the marine environment, and how anthropogenically driven change might affect anti-predator behaviour in prey species.



Roz Evans

Project Assistant

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Roz

I’m a Project Assistant for the Sensory Ecology group, and my main aim is to increase and monitor the impact that the research group’s work could have in the outside world. With so many organisations working with animals, a lot of the research produced by the Sensory Ecology group can be useful, allowing them to understand how the animals they focus on see the world around them. This could be applied to increasing animal welfare, or making products better from the animal’s point of view.

Previous work

My professional work to date has been focused on science communication, largely through the production of Biosphere wildlife science magazine. I graduated 1st Class from Exeter University in Conservation Biology and Ecology a few years ago.  For my final year project, I investigated the effect of altitude on the size of blue tit eggs.





Are you interested in joining our group?

There are a number of opportunities in our lab, especially for work on camouflage in shore animals and other areas of anti-predator coloration. Please get in touch if you are interested.

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