Birthday group meeting rolls round again!

15 04 2019


I swear these are recurring faster and faster… Thanks to my lovely, lovely group for a fun lunch and (AGAIN!) inspired presents (this time The Hidden Life of Trees, and Allowed to Grow Old [no not about me, about elderly farm animals living in sanctuaries]). Left to right are Andrea (finally back from California!), Misha, Michelle, Lindsey, Aimee, Emma (not a student any more, but she can’t keep away), me and Sam. Then we went back to the department for an hour of “speciesism“: a thought provoking discussion, just for us, skillfully led by Melisa Choubak from UoG’s Centre for Cross Cultural Research


Purple-nosed cats

4 04 2019

Luke I’ve borrowed an infra-red camera from work to get a feel for it (have some ideas I want to pursue on mice this summer), while also sneakily taking some pictures of our house‘s ever-challenging roof.

The camera’s slow, it clicks when it calibrates, and it crashes if you cluelessly ask it to do too much too fast. But it’s also phenomenal (as it should be for $12 grand!): I can see that with a bit of patience and skill it could be really valuable. Misha‘s already used it to look at acute stress responses in chickens (enriched hens seem more resilient: see his excellent “Hens with Benefits” thesis here!). So now can we use it to assess social buffering in mice? That’s the hope!

The ‘getting a feel’ has mainly involved taking cat pictures (of course) and both Luke and Sylvie turn out to have amazingly cold noses. Now I’m all side-tracked wondering if thermal imaging could also help people better read cat faces

How does poverty cause violence?

11 03 2019

I’ve been doing a bit of idle lit searching into the reasons why poverty causes violence. I was hoping to get new ideas as to why impoverished animals (e.g. female mice) are so often more aggressive than animals kept in better conditions. Not getting very far though, as I’m not sure mice have aspirations, and they certainly don’t have access to drugs.

Triple congratulations to Michelle!

8 03 2019

Michelle’s been appointed ‘science writer’ for the NFACC Scientists’ Committee about to tackle fish welfare issues in aquaculture. And making her week even better, research technician Jacquie Matsumoto (shown below training Michelle last summer) has just added plastic plants and glass pebbles to all of Glen van de Kraak‘s zebra fish tanks, inspired by the data Michelle spent all of last fall generating!

Michelle used a series of simple but elegantly conducted preference tests (the bottom picture shows a “grass versus gravel” set up). She found that several resources are preferred by these tiny fish over the standard barren default (though they were utterly unmoved by her colourful wall photos, despite her cry of “But I laminated them!!!”).  The data even reveal a lovely graded ranking of preference, from least preferred to most (standard bare tank < plants < gravel < two plants + gravel < four plants + gravel), so that labs wanting to enrich their fish can pick anything from the basic additions to deluxe overhaul. And Jacquie’s clearly going for deluxe! (Very nice work Michelle).



Grass vs Gravel

Email of the week

13 02 2019

From Andrea, ready to finally piece together the last logical steps of her “1000s of monkeys” complex stats model:

Screenshot 2019-02-12 22.05.05


And congratulations to Sam

16 01 2019

… who endured cold, mud and more to collect tonnes of data from 272 mink exposed to different enrichment regimes. He wrapped up data collection in November, collated and checked the data in December, and now has to analyse them, all the while keeping his fingers crossed there’s something there.

screenshot 2019-01-15 21.21.55

Learning and memory in plants

6 01 2019

screenshot 2019-01-05 21.11.39

Monica Gagliano, the researcher behind the 2016 “learning by peas” paper (see here for some critical commentary) was in the news today, promoting her new book.

I am intrigued but withholding judgment ’til I’ve all the relevant papers. Expect my assessment by about 2025.