GoogleScholar page: https://scholar.google.com.au/citations?user=e2wS-jQAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao
We have also done some research on a species of Melophorus ants (yet to be named) living on the salt pans of South Australia. This environment is barren and devoid of landmarks. We found the animal in December 2011. Two papers featuring this species have been published (Schultheiss et al., 2012, Australian Journal of Zoology; Scultheiss et al., 2016, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology).
In the latest venture, I am collaborating with a team (Jochen Zeil,
Ajay Narendra, Andy Barron, and including Ruediger Wehner) to delve into
the neurobiology of navigation in ants. Australian bull ants, genus Myrmecia, features in this research.
Cody Freas has been studying the night-active bull ant we have on campus, Myrmecia midas, and his work describes how this ant navigates. These nocturnal bull ants sport big eyes and powerful jaws; they pack a mighty sting as well. The ants come out foraging at sunset, and return to their nests throughout the night. They nest at Eucalyptus trees, and a portion of the foraging force travel up their nest tree to forage. The surrounding panorama plays a large role in their navigation, both on the ground and on trees.
Myrmecia midas travelling on trees
When travelling on a tree, we have observed that these ants often
try to assume a horizontal head position, from which stance they turn
their head to scan the surrounding panorama. Beyond some qualitative
descriptions, we have yet to quantify such behaviours in detail. But
they do navigate on trees. With the help of the visual panorama, they
move themslves to the side where their nest is well before reaching the
Cody has submitted his thesis in January of 2018.
Some publications on M. midas:
Freas, C. A., Narendra, A., & Cheng, K. (2017). Compass cues used by a nocturnal bull ant, Myrmecia midas. Journal of Experimental Biology, 220, 1678-1585.
Freas, C. A., Narendra, A., Lemesle, C., & Cheng, K. (2017). Polarized light use in the nocturnal bull ant, Myrmecia midas. Royal Society Open Science, 4, 170598. http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/8/170598
Freas, C. A., Wystrach, A., Narendra, A., & Cheng, K. (2018). The view from the trees: Nocturnal bull ants, Myrmecia midas, use the surrounding panorama while descending from trees. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 16. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00016/full
My experiments on honeybees have investigated how the foragers find a rewarding place. Past work focussed on the theme of the mechanisms by which honeybees find a place. Current research focuses on the topic of how the worker retrieves the correct memory of a place and whether and how multiple memories are integrated. Catherine Prabhu recently completed a thesis on how honeybees deal with conflicting evidence.
This is a topic that I started to study in my graduate school years. It has quite taken off. I haven't done any more empirical work on it, but have contributed theoretically. The unkind might say that I have milked other people's work. The kinder might say that theoretically contributions can be important.
Geometry is the layout of surfaces in the environment. What any animal learns about geometric cues is a matter of some debate. The link has more information.
The Clark's nutcracker has a prolific spatial memory. The bird lives in the Rocky Mountains of North America, and stores a lot of food, mostly pine seeds. It relies on its stored caches for sustenance over winter. It can remember thousands of caches for months. Alan Kamil and Russell Balda have done many studies on this bird. We now know that they use landmarks to remember and retrieve their caches. I collaborated with Debbie Kelly, now at the University of Manitoba, Russ Balda, and Alan Kamil in figuring out the cues used by these birds to remember cache locations in the lab.Some publications:
I collaborated with Astrid Heiling and Marie Herberstein of the Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, on the study of signal interactions between crab spiders, flowers, and bees, which are potential prey for spiders. Crab spiders may lure bees deceptively with their body coloration, to the detriment of the bees.
In spatial generalisation, a worker is trained to find food in a container at one location. After sufficient training, she is presented a container at various locations, including the training location. The question at stake is: how should the animal 'bet' on whether the container at each location has food or not. See the link for some answers.
In experiments on self control, the forager is presented with two choices of rewards. One is immediately available but is small. The other reward is larger, but the forager has to wait some time for it. Waiting for a larger reward is technically called self control, lack of which is often a nemesis in human behaviour. Bees show a good deal of self control.
I have an ongoing collaboration with Marcia Spetch of the Department of Psychology, University of Alberta. Students and colleagues have been collaborators, including Colin Clifford of the School of Psychology, University of Sydney. We investigated a number of topics in spatial and temporal cognition in pigeons and humans. A story on spatial cognition is linked below.
We found both peak shift and range effects in human face identification.
Marcia Spetch and I have published a substantial story on spatial cognition in university students, investigating spatial generalisation and peak shift. Students were presented marked locations on a computer screen, and had to bet whether it was the rewarding 'hot' spot. Our latest work, published in 2010 online, tries to provide functional explanations for all range effects in human learning.
Two colleagues at our University, Chris Evans and Peter Wenderoth, both now deceased, collaborated with me in studying the perception of bilateral symmetry in complex stimuli in humans. Bilateral symmetry means mirror symmetry. It is often an attractive property in mate selection. We studied in human subjects the perception of symmetry in complex, naturalistic objects.
Chris Evans and I have been exploring this topic 'on the back burner' for a number of years. The idea is to present virtual flowers, generated on computer to real bees. Each flower contains the same reward, but the bees get to choose which flower to land on and get their sugar water from. The virtual aspect makes it possible to manipulate key parameters in evolution, such as costs in producing flowers. It also speeds up the 'evolutionary' process, making generations go by in days. We think that this makes a great project for an interested graduate student.
Cody Freas: studying navigation in ants
Tim Pearson: studying auditory communication in flying foxes
Muzahidul Islam: studying learning and navigation in bull ants
Sudhakar Deeti: studying learning walks in desert ants
I teach BIOL122 Biological Basis of Behaviour. A brief description:
The Greatest Show on the Planet. BIOL122 is a suitable introductory science course for all students. It offers an integrative approach to the amazing world of behaviour. Basic mechanisms are covered, together with function and evolution. Lecture topics include micro- and macro-evolution, evolutionary origins of behaviour, basic neuroscience, perception, learning, brain and behaviour, and topics in animal behaviour. Lectures culminate with some reflections on the lives of humans in our modern world and the role of culture in human evolution.