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 120 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 as PI

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

01/08/2018 – 01/02/2019: British Eventing, £9,849. Horse Vision: performance, safety, and welfare.

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.

2017-2018: Multiple Industry Grants, ca£50,000.

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, Studium Generale Groningen, 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); University of Sheffield (Biology).

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/Australia: 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; Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Brisbane; Kunming Institute of Botany, China; Beijing Normal University, China.

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 Jiayun (Bonnie) Wu

Visiting Scholar

Sichuan Agricultural University, China

More About Bonnie

Working on the mechanism of adaptive colour change in fish

Current research

My research aims to explain how the colour change of fish will be affected by environmental factors such as backgrounds, light conditions, and so forth. Combined with analysis of data in colour parameters and expression level of colour-related genes, my research investigates the mechanism of the adaptive colour change in fish.

Previous research

I obtained my doctor’s degree in college of life sciences in Sichuan University, China in 2014. I studied the genetic diversity and population characters of the Chinese suckerMyxocyprinus asiaticus), an endemic fish in China, which changes its body colour significantly. After I graduated from university, I worked as a teacher in Sichuan Agricultural University; and my research interests focus on the color change pattern and genetic control mechanism of the fish. I try to clarify the characteristics and changing patterns of the fish caused by age and living environments, and try to determine the influence of genetic factors by screening the related genes and signalling pathways.


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.


Sam Green

PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More about Sam

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Alastair Wilson

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

PhD Thesis

My project investigates camouflage, colour change and transparency in chameleon prawns from the perspectives of modelled predator (fish) vision. My aim is to understand the function and mechanisms of colour change, and implications for within-species diversity and life history traits. Additionally, my thesis investigates the interplay between colour change and behavioural traits that improve camouflage, focusing on understanding how they combine in a species’ overall camouflage strategy.

Additional Research

Alongside my postgraduate studies I have worked as a graduate research assistant with Martin on a number of projects. I have worked on assignments concerning avian visual deterrents and looking at the lighting/visual environments within livestock farming enclosures aiming to improve welfare and productivity. Most recently I worked on a project investigating differences in the antipredator adaptations and behaviours displayed by adults and juveniles in a range of intertidal crab species.

BSc Zoology (hons), University of Exeter, 2013-2016.

My undergraduate dissertation project investigated the anti-predator defences of the common garden snail.

During my undergraduate degree I also undertook internships working with the Zoological Society of London’s TB badger-cattle contact project and with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust looking at heathland restoration for protected sand lizards.

Nafee Alothyqi

PhD Student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More about Nafee

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Alex Thornton

Working on the functional significance of the visual characteristics of avian eggs and nest materials.

Current research:

The main aim of my thesis is to understand the selective pressures that drive variation in avian eggs and nests, in particular that of camouflage and other functions of egg and nest coloration.

I will be using museum collection of comprehensive and large geographical scale of avian eggs alongside with related published data to investigate: (i) how physical traits of eggs (i.e., colouration, size and shape) interact together to affect the functions of the eggs, behaviour and survival, (ii) whether egg shape and size variation can influence the function of eggs colouration,(iii) and whether they have any further relationship with birds’ analogical features.  In addition, I will test key features of habitat selection and background and nest modification strategies in camouflage enhancement. Finally, investigate whether the introduced anthropogenic material (i.e., multi-coloured plastic) to bird nests contributes in nest, egg and adult camouflage and its role in overheating and the survival probability.

Previous research:

Bachelor’s degree in Biology, Umm Al-Qura University, Makkah, 2009-2013.

In 2013 I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Biology from Umm Al-Qura university. In my Undergraduate research project, I investigated the impact of daily-used cleaning products and air freshener on animals’ physiology and behaviour.

After graduation, I worked with three research groups; First, as a research assistant at Al-Qunfudah Centre for Scientific Research (QCSR). This centre focused on environmentalresearch, particularly in determining heavy metals of streets’ dust and their relation to public health. Second, I worked as a research member of the Microbiology Research Centre at Umm Al-Qura University. My research focused on “InVitro of medicinal plants extraction”. Finally, as a research assistant in fresh water fish project: which mainly focuses on: (i) taxonomic revision of freshwater fish of Saudi Arabia and, (ii) micro- flora and fauna of Saudi’s freshwater.

MSC in Applied Ecology, University of Exeter, 2017-2018.

I obtained my master’s degree in applied ecology at Exeter university. my research project was with Cornish Jackdaws Project (CJP). In my research I tested whether eggshell colour and maculation are related to female, egg and offspring quality in jackdaws (Corvus monedula).


Jasmine Somerville

PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More about Jasmine

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Jon Blount (Exeter), Dan Watson (SafetyNet Technologies Ltd)

Visual ecology, fisheries bycatch reduction, and developing new technologies

Current Research:

I am aiming to optimise the effectiveness of current sustainable fishing nets produced by SafetyNet Technologies through the investigation of the visual ecology of fish. Specifically, I will be testing the differential responses of fish to light stimuli in order to further understand the light preferences of certain species. The aim is to apply this knowledge to current LED lighting bycatch reduction technologies, which work by attracting target species to fishing nets, whilst repelling non-target species and reducing bycatch.

Previous Research:

BSc Zoology (Hons), University of Exeter (Penryn), 2014 – 2017.

Here I first became interested in applied animal ecology after completing my third-year research project, where I aimed to improve the effectiveness of a biological pest control. I worked with transgenic insects, which were laboratory-reared and genetically modified so that when they were released into natural populations to reproduce with wild counterparts, only male progeny survived. I found that by adding gut bacteria to diet, the reproductive success of transgenic insects improved, which could potentially increase their ability to suppress natural pest populations. I further continued this work as a Research Assistant at the University of Exeter in 2017.

MRes Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, Imperial College London (Silwood Park), 2018-2019.

My interest in interdisciplinary research lead me to this Masters by Research programme, where I conducted two research projects. My first project was based at Silwood Park, Ascot, where I studied the social behaviours of House sparrows (Passer domesticus). Using social network analysis, I aimed to quantify individuals’ personalities within a social group based on social interactions between conspecifics. My second project was based at the Institute of Avian Research in Germany, where I investigated eggshell colouration variability in a colony of Common terns (Sterna hirundo). I performed colour-analysis of eggshells through digital photography and gained a greater understanding of how non-human species may perceive colour.


Victoria Lee

NERC-funded PhD student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Victoria


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.



Smile Choudhary

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Smile

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Tom Tregenza

Examining cross species comparisons of camouflage and anti-predator behaviour in crabs

Current research:

The focal point of my research is to compare the camouflage strategies adopted by different crab species (juvenile and adult) and their response to predators. Previous work shows a great variety in both colours and patterns across crab species with respect to sexual maturity and habitat types. Moreover, the carapace colour and pattern has been reported to disappear partly or fully with increasing size and age (ontogenetic changes). I am investigating how the camouflage strategies and ontogenetic changes are associated with morphology, habitat use, and life history of crabs.

I am conducting field and behavioural studies analysing how coloration and polymorphism varies according to age and size across multiple crab species in the UK, and if there are any behavioural traits (e.g. background choice and predator avoidance) which link to patterns of phenotype-environment matching and ontogenetic changes within and among species. In addition, predator vision models (fish, birds) are used to analyse the camouflage of mature and immature crabs at different locations.

This work aids in understanding how camouflage, behaviour, and life history are interlinked to age, habitat use and predation risk.

Previous research:

I did my undergraduate degree in BSc Life Sciences (Science) from the Panjab University, Chandigarh, India.




Laura Coles

MSc by Research student

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Laura

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Tom Tregenza

Investigating how multiple anthropogenic stressors impact colour change and antipredator behaviours in the common shore crab (Carcinus maenas).

Current research:

My research aims to determine the impacts of multiple anthropogenic stressors (such as anthropogenic noise and temperature rise) on the colour change and antipredator behaviours of the common shore crab (Carcinus maenas).

The common shore crab is a species that exhibits colour change for background matching as a form of predator evasion. Anthropogenic stressors are known to impact this ability, and previous research suggests that when exposed to individual stressors such as noise pollution, C. maenassuffers increased stress, slower antipredator response and reduced colour change ability. Furthermore, anthropogenic stressors rarely occur in isolation in nature and therefore monitoring the impacts of the occurrence of multiple stressors concurrently is vital in predicting impacts on wild populations.

I plan to explore this by exposing crabs to a combination of stressors through playback of anthropogenic ship noise and increase of temperature, and monitoring their colour change response as well as speed and direction away from a simulated predator. I will then compare these responses to those shown under the presence of each stressor in isolation, or under natural conditions.

Previous research:

I graduated from the University of Exeter in 2018 with a First Class BSc Honours degree in Marine Biology. During the final year of my degree I completed a research project to investigate the health and distribution of seagrass (Zostera sp.) in the Fal and Helford SAC, under the supervision of Chris Laing. This entailed using field survey techniques and historical data to reveal declines in the health and abundance of seagrass populations and then using isotopic analysis of seagrass samples and sediment organic matter content to reveal potential drivers of these declines. The resultant report was shared with Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Natural England to update records and aid future seagrass monitoring efforts.

Carrying out this project nurtured my passion for marine conservation centric research, and carrying out Professor Stevens’ Sensory Ecology module in my third year awoke in me a fascination with the field of sensory ecology.


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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