And they said it couldn’t be done!

12 05 2021

This summer is when we’ll test the cognitive abilities of our differentially raised zebra fish. After lots of thinking and my favourite ‘incident room’ type of mind map (L), Michelle worked out that even though most fish cognition studies that sell themselves as ‘spatial’ really aren’t (because they could work egocentrically rather than allocentrically), it probably doesn’t actually matter because the hippocampus (not that fish have one of these) is not the only stress-sensitive brain region. So we came back to the traditional T maze (R)… but now with a rock solid, torn-down-and-built-up-again justification.

Next issue: how on earth to train identical fish that aren’t individually marked? Training them as whole shoals was the obvious answer, but Noam and Fred (both committee members) were VERY doubtful about this: convinced we’d have to train individually (which would literally take 10 times as long, and likely longer because the fish’d be isolation-stressed). With no other solution in sight, we decided we’d just try what no-one’s ever done before … and it’s working! After 16 trials, 6 of the ten tanks are at criterion (which is pretty amazing). Next question: are the enriched fish smarter? We’ll just have to wait and see…

Time to change research direction?

11 05 2021

This new work on cats, boxes and optical illusions is SO fun that I want to do it!

NPR has some nice coverage here:

And IFLScience here:

Inactivity Workshop….

11 05 2021

(… because it’s time to admit that waiting is not going to yield a better photograph…)

In mid March, Carole and her former Bristol colleagues (e.g. Mike, and post-doc Anna Trevarthan) organised an international “inactivity and welfare” workshop as part of wrapping up a BBSRC grant. It was probably one of the nicest online events I’ve been to, with sufficiently few of us there that we could just chat as if in a weird vertical room. It was also a real pleasure hearing Andrea and Aileen present great stuff from my lab, and seeing other former students now running projects of their own (Carole herself of course, but also Becky, Maria and Charlie).

There’s no doubt that certain forms of inactivity indicate welfare problems, but I was left wondering, are we constraining ourselves by typically trying to fit them into boxes marked “boredom” or “depression”? Is David McFarland‘s “limbo” idea a more useful concept, for the more unnatural aspects of captive life?

Both Anna and I took screenshots to try and capture how fun it was, but they’re both pretty unglamorous. We’re all waaay smarter-looking and more svelte than the images below would suggest.

Text of the week

1 05 2021

From Aileen!! So, another one safely funded for a few years : )

Aimee’s new path

30 04 2021

Aimee‘s post-graduation life has taken her from animal welfare to human welfare: a new business with husband Robert! So now I’m expecting a slightly insane number of lavender sachets tomorrow (along with the lab hard drive – she’s been coding some last videos for me: can’t let skilled people escape entirely!)

Typo of the week

30 04 2021

Very sweet but slightly unsettling email from a grad student

Papers papers papers!

27 04 2021

The latest paper with Andrea and Becky, called Boredom-like exploratory responses in farmed mink reflect states that are rapidly reduced by environmental enrichment, but unrelated to stereotypic behaviour or ‘lying awake’ (aka “never try and replicate and nice result”) is now out, with free access to all for a couple of weeks:

Lindsey‘s magnum opus is out too:

And then just this very morning….

… our mouse judgment bias work, after a long and arduous journey, is accepted at last! Hopefully out in Physiology and Behaviour very soon.

“The hard problem” wears Sylvie right out

27 04 2021

One book down, several more to go…

End of semester for ANSC*6720

27 04 2021

Last week saw the last time my “affective states” grad class students were all together. Over the semester they’ve wrestled with sentience, circular reasoning, and welfare measures that mean different things in different contexts, and have followed what I’ve come to learn is the typical arc with this course – at first loving it, then hating it, then (for most at least) emerging the other end tempered and stronger (and happy, though perhaps not all of them).

Zig-zagging from the top left we have pig enthusiast Kimberly Lyons, working with Mike von Massow; me, or possibly my mother; Kendra, gloriously dressed as the soul of a dead giraffe; horse expert Dana Dusevic, working with Wendy Pearson; Olivia Franzin, zoo vet of the future (working with Katrina Merkies); Michelle Pobre and Grace Hong, both doing great research on feather-plucking and working with Alexandra; Kristen Panetta (who’s supervisor I’m blanking on, but who’s also doing an amazing job delving into avian sentience); the irrepressible Jasmine Muszik, working with Tina; and Ali Tasker, who’s working with Anna-Kate Shovellor. They were brave, creative and analytical – and all during pandemic!

At last it’s public: congratulations to Andrea!

19 04 2021

A month ago I got asked by Faunalytics for a reference for Andrea for a researcher position. I had a great call with their Research Director, Jo Anderson, during which I sold Andrea hard: I genuinely thought she’s be great (it’s a stats-heavy, experimental design position: she would rock it), but also, this is her dream job, and she’d step into it straight from her PhD. (It’s not often that happens, and it’s always such a relief when it does).

After 20 minutes or so, Jo admitted to me that TBH I really did not have to be trying so much: they’d already decided to offer her the job — at which point I promptly burst into tears (hey it’s a pandemic: we’re all a little crazy, right?). Great to see it public at last, and look at this cute pic they did of her!

So Andrea’s now stepping down from her briefly held ACE position as she needs to wrap up her PhD ASAP and move on to this next exciting chapter of her life.