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

For information on my personal passion for wildlife photography, short films, and science writing, please see my personal webpages.

You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter.


2020 Awarded the Zoological Society of London’s Scientific Medal for my contributions to research on animal coloration, vision, and behaviour.

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 140 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

01/09/2019 – 30/02/2023: SafetyNet Technologies, £72,594. Visual ecology, fisheries bycatch reduction, and developing new technologies – Industry funded PhD project.

01/12/2019 – 30/05/2020: British Eventing, £13,832. Horse vision & testing the visibility of obstacles to horses in behavioural trials.

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 am passionate about science communication and have written three popular science books for a general audience, including one to accompany a recent David Attenborough TV series (Life in Colour) – see publications page for all of these. I also use photography and short films to illustrate science and nature to wide audiences, including through social media.

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; SafetyNet Technologies; 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 have been a BBSRC Schools Regional Champion for the SW for my outreach work to school students.

Dr Anne Winters

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow

More About Anne

Working on aposematism and polymorphism in nudibranchs.

Current research

I am an evolutionary and behavioural ecologist interested in anti-predator defences. I am particularly interested in aposematism, which is a defence strategy that relies on communication to signal unprofitability to predators. I focus on how variable signals are maintained through selection pressures acting on the system.

I currently hold a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship “MOVAC: maintenance of variation in aposematic colouration” to investigate intraspecific variation in the aposematic, polymorphic nudibranch, Polycera quadrilineata.

Previous research

From 2019-2020 I worked as a post-doctoral researcher in the Predator Prey Interactions group at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, where I focused on intraspecific and geographic variation in sequestered chemical defences, how multiple defence compounds interact to dissuade predators, and the efficacy of colour, smell, and taste in disrupting different stages of the predation sequence.
My PhD “Understanding Colour and Chemical Diversity in Nudibranchs” was in the Visual Ecology group at the University of Queensland, Australia.

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.


Li Zixiang

PhD Student 

Funded by an Exeter-Chinese Scholarship award.

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Zixiang

Supervisors: Martin Stevens (Primary), Laura Kelley

Working on coloration and camouflage in giant panda and other mammals.

Current research:

My research aims to explain the function of giant panda coloration by testing if, and how, the giant panda’s pelage benefits it in camouflage. I’m planning to combine artificial model predation simulations and behavioral experiments to test this question, alongside investigating how coloration interacts with the environment, and expecting the research to aid in understanding the ecology of giant panda and contribute to its reintroduction and habitat protection.

Previous research:

MRes Ecology, Beijing Normal University, 2017-2020

My dissertation investigated olfactory mediated mate selection and its association with MHC variation on pandas. During my master’s study, I also researched issues affecting captive animal welfare on gibbons and pandas.

BSc Biology, Beijing Normal University, 2013-2017

I obtained my bachelor’s degree in 2017 from Beijing Normal University. The dissertation project was analysis of the volatile components of bamboo and the feeding preference of pandas. I also received training on fieldwork and investigated on biodiversity under different interference gradients in Beijing. Apart from academic study, I served as a volunteer in Beijing raptor rescue center.

George Hancock

PhD Student

NERC GW4+ PhD Student, University of Exeter 2019-2023

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter.

More About Maria

Supervisors: Jolyon Troscianko (Primary), Innes Cuthill (Bristol), Andrew Hoodless (GWCT), Martin Stevens

The Role of Camouflage in the Conservation and Survival of Ground-Nesting Birds

See research page here.

Current research:

My project aims to determine whether different land-management techniques affect the camouflage efficacy of lapwing nests and how they might be modified to best compliment their camouflage and survival success. I will first investigate which aspects of camouflage, light environment and three-dimensional habitat structure, correlate best with nest survival by using calibrated animal-vision imaging and 3D scanning techniques to compare predicted camouflage efficacy with nest survival. Any causal-links found between land-management and camouflage efficacy will then be tested through controlled predation experiments, using 3D printed lapwing eggs with animal-vision calibrated colour printed patterns.

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.