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Secrets of animal camouflage: Video reveals how predator vision works

By jfp40 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 06, 2014.

The researchers, from the University of Exeter and the University of Cambridge, travelled across Zambia and South Africa and took over 14,000 images and many hours of video footage as part of Project Nightjar. The aim was to work out which predators are able to see the hidden eggs of different ground-nesting birds. Back in the lab, they used specially customised software to recreate the visual world of the predators, analysing what makes objects blend in or stand out from their backgrounds, based on real field data – the first time that camouflage data has been directly linked to survival rates of real animals in the field.

The researchers have taken the analysis one step further by recruiting another predator: humans. By playing the ‘citizen science’ game Egglab, people can take their place in the evolutionary tree and spot eggs in images derived from the research. The eggs even ‘evolve’ as the game progresses, yielding yet more data on how types of camouflage evolve in different habitats.

Dr Jolyon Troscianko from the University of Exeter’s Sensory Ecology and Evolution group says Project Nightjar came about because theories about how camouflage works hadn’t been tested in the wild. “It’s very difficult to find a study system where you can link predation with the quality of an animal’s camouflage,” he said.

Along with co-principal investigators Dr Martin Stevens, also from the University of Exeter, and Dr Claire Spottiswoode from the University of Cambridge, the team developed a study system using two classes of ground-nesting birds inspired by Spottiswoode’s previous encounters with nightjars in Africa. “I was bowled over by their camouflage, which led to discussions with Martin about how we could take advantage of these birds for camouflage research, leading to our collaboration on the current project,” she said.   

Nightjars sit tight on their eggs and rely on the camouflage of the adult bird to outwit their predators. As a result, their eggs are less camouflaged because the adults do the work. In contrast, plovers and coursers run from their nests when danger approaches. Their much more exposed eggs have therefore evolved better camouflage to blend in with their backgrounds, saving the developing chick inside. In each case, it’s an arms race between the patterns, colours and contrast of the eggs and the visual acuity of the predators.

Hidden cameras were used to see which predators were eating the eggs. Troscianko recalled that this was a more difficult task than first appeared: “Predation events are unpredictable, which is why this is such a difficult project that has never been done before.”

So far, the researchers have found that colour and contrast are often linked, and both are important. As Dr Stevens explained, “What seems to be happening is that disruptive coloration often arises on a range of background types, but is especially common when the background is more variable. Background matching seems especially important on backgrounds that are more uniform (for example open ground), and when individuals are generalist and eggs evolve against two background types, the camouflage takes longer to improve.”

Stevens explained that the citizen science games and rigorous fieldwork are complementary. “The fieldwork looks at how camouflage of real animals in the wild affects how likely they are to be eaten by a range of predators, and how camouflage is influenced by behaviour and nesting strategies of the birds. The egg game looks at how camouflage evolves against different habitats under controlled conditions.”

Initial data analysis of both the fieldwork results and the citizen science games suggests that egg patterning involves trade-offs between hiding eggs from mammalian eyes or from bird eyes – a classic case of not being able to fool everybody all of the time.   

How do animals see? It’s a question that vexes biologists and fascinates anyone who has watched animals go about their business: what does the world look like through their eyes? In a new video, BBSRC-funded scientists are attempting to answer some of these fundamental questions by studying  the success of bird and egg camouflage.

It’s an arms race between the patterns, colours and contrast of the eggs and the visual acuity of the predators
Mozambique Nightjar

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Royal Society honours Cambridge scientists

By pbh25 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 06, 2014.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg

Three Cambridge scientists are among those honoured by the Royal Society this week.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg FRS, Department of Physics, received the Rumford Medal “for his outstanding creativity in nanophotonics, investigating many ingenious nanostructures, both artificial and natural to support novel plasmonic phenomena relevant to Raman spectroscopy, solar cell performance and meta-materials applications.”

The medal is awarded biennially for important discoveries in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter and their applications.

Professor Clare Grey FRS, Department of Chemistry, was awarded the 2014 Davy Medal for further pioneering applications of solid state nuclear magnetic resonance to materials of relevance to energy and the environment.

This medal is awarded annually “for an outstandingly important recent discovery in any branch of chemistry”.

In the lecture prizes Professor Nicholas Davies FRS, Department of Zoology, was awarded the Croonian Lecture for his work on the co-evolved responses of brood parasitic cuckoos and their hosts, the process of co-evolution and adaptation and the biology of the birds.


 

The Royal Society has announced the recipients of its awards, medals and prizes for 2104.

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Croonian Lecture awarded to Prof Nick Davies

From Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 04, 2014.

Professor Ron Laskey awarded CRUK Lifetime Achievement Prize

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jul 31, 2014.

Professor Jenny Clack awarded Honorary Doctor of Science Degree

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jul 10, 2014.

Butterflies show how patterns evolve on the wing

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jul 10, 2014.

Neal Maskell – retirement party

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 26, 2014.

Professor Michael Akam Awarded Frink Medal by Zoological Society of London

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 20, 2014.

Birds evolve ‘signature’ patterns to distinguish cuckoo eggs from their own

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 18, 2014.

For some birds, recognising their own eggs can be a matter of life or death.

In a new study, scientists have shown that many birds affected by the parasitic Common Cuckoo - which lays its lethal offspring in other birds’ nests - have evolved distinctive patterns on their eggs in order to distinguish them from those laid by a cuckoo cheat.

The study reveals that these signature patterns provide a powerful defense against cuckoo trickery, helping host birds to reject cuckoo eggs before they hatch and destroy the host’s own brood.

To determine how a bird brain might perceive and recognize complex pattern information, Dr Mary Caswell Stoddard at Harvard University and Professor Rebecca Kilner and Dr Christopher Town at the University of Cambridge developed a new computer vision tool, NATUREPATTERNMATCH. The tool extracts and compares recognizable features in visual scenes, recreating processes known to be important for recognition tasks in vertebrates.

“We harnessed the same computer technology used for diverse pattern recognition tasks, like face recognition and image stitching, to determine what visual features on a bird’s eggs might be easily recognised,” explained Stoddard.

Using the tool, the researchers studied the pigmentation patterns on hundreds of eggs laid by eight different bird species (hosts) targeted by the Common Cuckoo.

They discovered that some hosts, like the Brambling, have evolved highly recognisable egg patterns characterised by distinctive blotches and markings. By contrast, other hosts have failed to evolve recognisable egg patterns, instead laying eggs with few identifiable markings. Those hosts with the best egg pattern signatures, the researchers found, are those that have been subjected to the most intense cuckoo mimicry.

The Common Cuckoo and its hosts are locked in different stages of a co-evolutionary arms race. If a particular host species – over evolutionary time – develops the ability to reject foreign cuckoo eggs, the cuckoo improves its ability to lay eggs that closely match the color and patterning of those laid by its host.

“The ability of Common Cuckoos to mimic the appearance of many of their hosts’ eggs has been known for centuries. The astonishing finding here is that hosts can fight back against cuckoo mimicry by evolving highly recognisable patterns on their own eggs, just like a bank might insert watermarks on its currency to deter counterfeiters,” said Stoddard.

“The surprising discovery of this study is that hosts achieve egg recognition in different ways” said Kilner, from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

Some host species have evolved egg patterns that are highly repeatable within a single clutch, while other species have evolved eggs with patterns that differ dramatically from female to female in a population. Still other host species produce egg patterns with high visual complexity. Each strategy is effective, increasing the likelihood that a given host will identify and reject a foreign egg. “Some species use two of these strategies, but none uses all three,” continued Kilner. “A signature like this would be too complex to be easily recognised”.

The patterns on bird eggs are just one type of visual signature. Identity signatures are common in the animal world, but how they are encoded and recognised is poorly understood. In the future, computational tools like NATUREPATTERNMATCH - which account for important aspects of visual and cognitive processing - will be crucial for understanding the evolution of visual signals in diverse biological populations.

The findings of this study are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Inset image: Reed Warbler caring for Cuckoo chick. Credit: David Kjaer

Using new ‘pattern recognition algorithm,’ latest research highlights how birds are ‘fighting back’ against the parasitic Common Cuckoo in what scientists describe as an evolutionary ‘arms race’. They found that birds with the most sophisticated and distinctive egg patterning are those most intensely targeted by the cuckoo’s egg mimicry.

The surprising discovery of this study is that hosts achieve egg recognition in different ways
Rebecca Kilner
NATUREPATTERNMATCH extracts visual features, here represented by magenta vectors (left). Three eggs each (represented in different rows) laid by three different Great Reed Warblers are shown here (right).

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Part II Zoology Class List

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 16, 2014.

Academic Promotions 2014

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 11, 2014.

Many congratulations to two members of the Department who have received awards in this year's Academic Promotions exercise, to take effect from 1 October 2014:

New EU reforms fail European wildlife

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 05, 2014.

Latest reforms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have been declared significantly “greener” by the Members of the European Parliament, following promises to make the environment and climate change ‘core issues’ for the new CAP.

However, leading conservation experts writing in the journal Science warn that after three years of CAP negotiations the environmental reforms are so diluted they will be of no benefit to European wildlife, and biodiversity will continue to decline across the continent.

Under the new CAP almost a third of direct payments to farmers are now subject to conditions relating to ‘greening measures’. However, disagreements over the measures have led to a wide range of exemptions being put in place.

After analysing the details of the reformed CAP, experts from a number of major organisations revealed that about half of all farmland and 80-90% of all the farmers in the EU could be exempt from having to abide by two of the three new environmental requirements. At the same time, budgets to support voluntary ‘greening measures’ have been reduced.

Individual member states must use the flexibility offered by the reforms to design national plans for sustaining ecosystems, say the experts. Unless member states take serious steps beyond those required for the CAP, the EU’s own biodiversity targets for 2020 are very unlikely to be met.

The experts – who range from scientists to policy analysts and conservationists – offer six ‘immediate actions’ that states should take. These include comprehensive mapping of existing grasslands and increasing the availability of ecological expertise to farmers. They also list six recommendations for the EU to consider towards the next, still-much-needed revision of the CAP.

They hope these recommendations encourage individual states and the EU as a whole to move towards sustainable agriculture, securing vital ecosystems for “current and future generations”.

“The targets implicitly assume that the biodiversity-related measures under the CAP are effective at protecting wildlife. While some specific, carefully designed actions – such as planting flowers for pollinators, restoring species-rich grassland, or providing nesting areas for ground-nesting birds – have been shown to work when properly implemented, these are not included as options under the new compulsory greening elements,” said Dr Lynn Dicks, a co-author from the Department of Zoology in the University of Cambridge.

“The weak environmental reforms in the CAP put the fate of Europe’s declining biodiversity in the hands of the individual member states,” said Dr Guy Pe’er, lead author from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, who collaborated with Lynn Dicks and William Sutherland from Cambridge, as well as experts from RSPB, the Society for Conservation Biology and others.

“The EU should openly communicate this dependency, and encourage member states to make responsible decisions, rather than pretend that the reform allows meeting the EU’s important ecological targets,” he said.

Expansion of the EU and its common market continues to drive agricultural intensification across Europe at the expense of wildlife and natural habitats, say the experts.

The Common Agricultural Policy – which uses almost 40% of the EU’s budget and influences the management of half of its entire territory – provides subsidies that increase the scale of farming throughout the EU. This has led to increased grassland conversion and peatland drainage. The situation is particularly severe in new member states, where the use of agri-chemicals such as fertilizers has shot up.

This continues to take a heavy toll on wildlife, with dramatic declines in everything from the farmland bird index to ‘permanent’ grassland that, in newer member states, has shrunk over 11% in just the last decade.  

To address this, the new CAP made 30% of all direct payments to farmers conditional on compliance with three ‘greening measures’: establishing Ecological Focus Areas, maintaining permanent grasslands, and setting minimum requirements on number of crops grown to stop areas slipping into homogenous ‘monocultures’.

However, following thorough analysis, experts have found that the large number of clauses introduced to the greening measures exempt over 88% of farmers in the EU, and over 48% of its agricultural areas from having to incorporate Ecological Focus Areas. 81% of arable farmers are now exempt from the crop diversity measure, and the grassland measure allows another 5% decline in area.

“The measures themselves do not include quality criteria for what counts as green,” said Pe’er. “The thresholds set will allow on-going intensification under a green label”.

They conclude that the CAP reforms fail to fulfil Target 3A of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which explicitly requires the EU to “maximise areas […] covered by biodiversity-related measures under the CAP”.

“The CAP should pay for ‘public goods’ associated with sustainable farming: thriving wildlife, beautiful landscapes, clean water, fertile soils, land that contributes to a stable climate, and diverse communities of wild insects to pollinate crops or regulate pest outbreaks. These are things enjoyed by everyone but not so easy to pay for through food sales,” added Dicks.

“Finding a way to produce enough food for humanity without losing these assets is perhaps the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, the latest CAP reform has not found a way to secure them.”

Inset image: Common Blue Butterfly by Matt Clark

Despite political proclamation of increased environmental focus, experts argue that the European Union’s recent agricultural reforms are far too weak to have any positive impact on the continent’s shrinking farmland biodiversity, and call on member states to take action.

The targets implicitly assume that the biodiversity-related measures under the CAP are effective at protecting wildlife
Lynn Dicks
Lets Play a Game:)!

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‘Extreme sleepover #13’ – the wet-nursing meerkats of the Kalahari

By jfp40 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Jun 04, 2014.

I never thought I would be quizzing people over a radio about the sandiness of nipples. Then again, I never foresaw that for many months my days would start with a bump, lurching over sand dunes in a Land Rover, heading off to find meerkats, to whom those nipples belong. Life in the Kalahari is inherently full of surprises.

My PhD research with Professor Tim Clutton-Brock has brought me here, to the far northern reaches of South Africa, where I study the phenomenon of allolactation – essentially, wet-nursing. In each of the 16 groups of meerkats scattered across our large reserve, only one dominant female will breed. The other females in the group will help her to raise her young, sometimes even lactating for them. This year though, those females are not being forthcoming, and their nipples, which will have wet, sandy rings around them if they are allolactating, remain dismally dry.

The radio crackles as the network of volunteers spread out in separate cars and on foot to begin the task of monitoring different meerkat groups. I’m dropped off, and suddenly am in a state of solitude that I’ve come to find blissful. At the top of Sandy Hill, a large dune and one of our main landmarks, I leave grey flat scrub behind me and come to my favourite part of the reserve. Here the grass is a dry platinum, and dunes tumble gently into wide valleys. Tall trees, now erupting into a lush green after the first rains, are dotted evenly like a wild orchard. I love best the southward vista, where the dunes drop so suddenly to the flats that it looks like the edge of the world.

It is the edge of the world for my favourite group of meerkats, the Sequoia group. I find their burrow just in time – the first to rise, just as the sun is coming up, is Bruce. He’s the dominant male of the group, a well-built and handsome meerkat easily recognisable from his striking left shoulder and left thigh dye marks, our means of identifying each individual. Bruce is a local hero for his audaciously bold guarding of his group – he can often be seen high up in some tree, watching the horizon with a fierce expression. The dominant female, Ru, is a big, good-natured girl, and her cohort are characterful and a pleasure to wander in the dunes with.

After weighing each individual and conducting a roll-call, I follow the females I’m interested in – the dominant female and the potential allolactators – and collect detailed data on their every move, as well as staying aware of what’s going on with the whole group. Summer in the Kalahari is a time to watch your step too. I walked past the same bush dozens of times in Sequoia territory last week before we heard the telltale deflating-football sound of a deadly poisonous puff adder coiled menacingly at its base. It raised a lazy head at a young male venturing too close, who thankfully alerted the group, and me, to its presence.

Watching my step is also important for happier reasons – to avoid the plucky little pups who dart around the adult females that I’m following in the hope of getting fed a juicy grub. The pups at Sequoia are obsessed with shoes, and play-forage around my heels as I record observations on their mother. If I sit down, there’s soon an investigation of my hems, laces and pockets. The pups are still the size of my palm, though getting heavier by the day.

There is a time somewhere between 11 o’clock and midday when the Kalahari turns from a balmy, soft-edged paradise to a hell that crackles underfoot and becomes alien and angry, with a sudden fierce heat. Time to head home, and sleep off our early morning.

I’m back out again mid-afternoon though, this time looking for Pandora, a group at the far edge of the land we cover. I find them using signals from a tiny radio collar that the pregnant dominant female, Toblerone, wears around her neck. But something odd is going on this evening  and I find I’m getting a strong signal for Toblerone below ground, at the group’s burrow. Luckily most of the rest of the gang, including a lovable adult male called Cecil – an incorrigible lothario with neighbouring groups – are foraging fairly nearby.

It’s cooling now, but it’s been a long, hot afternoon, and when we return to the burrow at dusk, they are all eager to jump on my scales and be weighed, and then receive the gulps of water we reward them with.

After a few moments, I discover the reason for Toblerone’s absence is just as I expected – she emerges, sleek and placid, with the suckle marks on her belly of some strong and healthy pups, born this afternoon. And even better news for me, the oldest subordinate female also appears, and by the sandy rings around her nipples, it looks like she has also started lactating – the first allolactator of my study. Like I said, the Kalahari is full of surprises – the tiny bundles of life produced in this dry, hot world are the best of them all.

Kirsty MacLeod

Kirsty MacLeod is a PhD student with Professor Tim Clutton-Brock In the Department of Zoology.

Reporting back from her time spent in the Kalahari Desert, PhD student Kirsty MacLeod describes the fascinating life of a gang of meerkats that includes an audacious boy called Bruce and a good-natured girl called Ru.

Bruce is a local hero for his audaciously bold guarding of his group – he can often be seen high up in some tree, watching the horizon with a fierce expression.
Kirsty MacLeod
Kirsty MacLeod and meerkats

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Philine zu Ermgassen awarded a CUSU Teaching Excellence Award

From Department of Zoology. Published on May 27, 2014.

Paul Brakefield elected member of EMBO

From Department of Zoology. Published on May 09, 2014.

A view from the roof: Arup works are progressing well

From Department of Zoology. Published on May 07, 2014.

First Gold award for boosting the role of women in Cambridge

By pbh25 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on May 01, 2014.

The University of Cambridge has received its first Gold award for boosting the role of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) departments.

Athena SWAN Awards are given for success in developing employment practices to further and support the careers of women in academia.

Alongside the Gold award – which went to the Department of Physics - four other departments were also recognised with Bronze awards, the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) announced today (Thursday, May 1).

University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz described the Department of Physics as a “beacon” within Cambridge: “The department was the first to gain an Athena SWAN Award in the University in 2010 and leads the way for other University Departments who now hold, or are working towards, Athena SWAN Awards”.

“The University is extremely committed to progressing gender equality and we are beginning to see the impact of the significant resources and initiatives dedicated to improving the numbers of women across all career stages. 

“The Department of Physics has played and will continue to have a key role in supporting and promoting women in STEMM.”

The Bronze award winners at Cambridge were the Departments of Zoology, Psychology and Pharmacology from the School of Biological Sciences, and the Faculty of Mathematics (representing the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics).

Professor Athene Donald, Professor of Physics and the University’s Gender Equality Champion said: “I am delighted that the Department of Physics has been awarded Cambridge's first Athena Gold. As the University's Gender Equality Champion, as well as a member of the department, it is excellent to see this recognition of all the hard work and far-sighted action being carried out by Physics. I hope this will act as a stimulus and inspiration for other departments in the University.”

Also commenting on the Department of Physics’ award, Professor Andy Parker, Head of Department, said he was delighted by the news: “We intend to build on this success in the future and to engage with other Departments in Cambridge and beyond to address the continuing under-representation of women in STEMM subjects.”

The future should involve a focus on the next generation said Professor Val Gibson, Head of High Energy Physics: “I am most proud of the Department’s engagement with our students and post-doctoral researchers. It is evident that their generation will be unperturbed by the gender-related barriers that influenced the careers of our generation. The next big step has to come from more girls studying STEMM subjects at A-level or equivalent. Only then can we look towards true equality within the higher education sector."

University Departments at Cambridge now hold 10 awards in total - one Gold, one Silver and Eight bronze, meaning 71 per cent of STEMM staff now work in departments that hold awards.

Professor Anne Davis Professor of Mathematical Physics and chair of the Faculty of Mathematics’ Athena SWAN committee, said of their bronze award: “We are proud to be recognised by this award. It is an important step in the right direction, but just the first step in our goal of nurturing all our members, particularly our women, to ensure they achieve their potential in a happy and supportive environment.”

The Department of Physics’ Gold award was one of three announced today – a record number.

Dr Ruth Murell-Lagnado, Athena SWAN Academic Lead, Department of Pharmacology, said of her department's award: "We are delighted to learn of the successful outcome of our Athena SWAN application. The Bronze award has provided the impetus for the Department to create the optimum conditions to enable the career progression of women in science."

Speaking of the Department of Zoology's Bronze award, Rebecca Kilner, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, said: "The really important thing to remember is that we have started some important, tangible and long-overdue changes in the Department as a result of the SWAN process. The Bronze award gives us the kick we need to ensure we implement the Action Plan and get a Silver award next time."

Overall, 125 departments and universities submitted for an Athena SWAN award in this round, and 89 were successful – a 71% success rate. The disciplines with the highest number of submissions were medical and dental schools.

The announcement of Cambridge’s success comes as an independent evaluation into the impact and effectiveness of ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter has confirmed that the awards scheme advances gender equality and changes the working culture and attitude within participating departments and universities.

Department of Physics given Gold award while four Bronze awards also bestowed.

The University is extremely committed to progressing gender equality and we are beginning to see the impact of the significant resources and initiatives dedicated to improving the numbers of women across all career stages. The Department of Physics has played and will continue to have a key role in supporting and promoting women in STEMM.
University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
  • For more information about Athena SWAN and the University go to www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/hr/equality/athena/#introduction
  • The Athena SWAN Charter is owned by Equality Challenge Unit. It is funded by ECU, the Department of Health, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Royal Society, the Scottish Funding Council and the Biochemical Society www.athenaswan.org.uk
  • ECU works to further and support equality and diversity for staff and students in HE across all four nations of the UK, and in the college sector in Scotland. www.ecu.ac.uk.

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Compressed and Cryogenic Gas Safety Training Course

From Department of Zoology. Published on Apr 08, 2014.

Two recent prizes for Sarah Luke

From Department of Zoology. Published on Apr 04, 2014.

Claire Feniuk wins first prize at the Student Conference on Conservation Science

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 31, 2014.

Gerit Linneweber wins 3rd prize in GSLS image competition

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 25, 2014.

The wonders of the animal kingdom: a new Museum of Zoology

By jfp40 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 20, 2014.

The vision is to create a Museum that enchants its visitors and celebrates the amazing diversity of animal life, showcasing the wonders of the animal kingdom and emphasising the importance of conserving biodiversity for the future. From the long extinct Dodo to specimens that inspired Darwin’s theories, the Museum has a distinguished history, reflected in the historical and scientific richness of its collections.

This significant grant will enable the Museum to:

  • create displays and new interpretation to engage people with the wonders of animal diversity;
  • create new stores to ensure that the Museum’s internationally significant collections are cared for to the highest standards;
  • expand the Museum’s learning programmes, reaching out to wider audiences and increasing online resources.

The University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge holds one of the greatest zoology collections in the world. It is designated as being of outstanding historical and scientific importance and forms a major part of one of the leading international research centres for the study of animal biology. Its four million specimens illustrate the diversity of animal life on Earth, tracing its evolution over the past 500 million years into the wonderful variety of life seen today. The collections include many treasures and unique specimens, including fine examples of the extinct Dodo, Great Auk, and Tasmanian Tiger, and many specimens collected by Charles Darwin and other great naturalists of the past.

Professor Michael Akam, Head of the Department of Zoology said: “We are hugely grateful to the HLF for supporting this exciting and far-reaching project which will benefit the collections and visitors alike."

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England said “We’re delighted to be supporting this project, and thanks to Lottery players’ money, we can all have the opportunity to discover the treasures of this Museum’s extraordinary collections.”

Professor Paul Brakefield, Director of the Museum of Zoology said: “The Museum is enthusiastically embracing this unique redevelopment opportunity to display the extraordinary richness of our collections in superb new spaces to the benefit of everyone. The creation of a new conservation campus in central Cambridge will mean that scientists and practitioners from across the University, working with NGOs, will be able to showcase the past, present and future of biodiversity on our planet”

The Museum is currently closed as work on the building, funded by Cambridge University, has already started and will create a Conservation Campus in partnership with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). Building work will take approximately two years and the Museum plans to reopen in summer 2016.

The £1.8 million grant is in addition to an HLF Development Grant of £180,000, awarded in January 2013 and matched by the Museum, which permitted development of the plans. The total project is currently costed at £4.8 million and the Museum has already launched a major public fund-raising appeal for £3 million.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded a grant of £1.8 million to the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. This funding will support ambitious plans to completely redevelop the Museum of Zoology with displays showcasing the wonders of the animal kingdom, and new stores to preserve its outstanding collections for the future.

We are hugely grateful to the HLF for supporting this exciting and far-reaching project which will benefit the collections and visitors alike.
Professor Michael Akam
View of new entrance with whale skeleton

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Museum wins £1.8 million grant from Heritage Lottery Fund

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 20, 2014.

Alex Hackmann wins Graduate School of Life Sciences Image Competition

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 17, 2014.

David Williams wins first prize at Clare Graduate Symposium

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 17, 2014.

The Department launches a mentoring scheme for post-docs

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 12, 2014.

Dr Nancy Lane featured in Dalhousie University Alumni magazine

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 11, 2014.

To boldly go – how personality predicts social learning in baboons

By jfp40 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 11, 2014.

Working with a well-studied group of baboons in the Namibian desert, Dr Alecia Carter of the Department of Zoology set baboons learning tasks involving a novel food and a familiar food hidden in a cardboard box. Some baboons were given the chance to watch another baboon who already knew how to solve the task, while others had to learn for themselves.

To work out how bold or anxious the baboons were, she presented them either with a novel food or a threat in the form of a model of a puff adder.

She found that personality had a major impact on learning. “The bolder baboons learnt, but although the shy ones watched the baboon with the novel tasks just as long as the bold ones did, they did not learn the task. In effect, despite being made aware of what to do, they were still too shy to act on that information,” said Dr Carter.

The same held true for anxious versus calm baboons: the anxious individuals learnt the task by observing others while those who were laid back did not, even though they spent more time watching.

This mismatch between collecting social information and using it shows that personality plays a key role in social learning in animals, something that has previously been ignored in animal cognition studies.

“Our findings are significant because they suggest that animals may perform poorly in cognitive tasks not because they aren’t clever enough to solve them, but because they are too shy or nervous to interact with it. Individual differences in social learning that are related to personality may thus have to be taken into account systematically when studying animal cognition,” she said.

The results also suggest that the baboons’ social networks may prevent them from learning from others. “I couldn’t test some individuals no matter how hard I tried, because although they were given the opportunity to watch a knowledgeable individual who knew how to solve the task, some baboons simply never went near a knowledgeable individual and thus never had the opportunity to learn from others,” she explained.

The findings may impact how we understand the formation of culture in societies through social learning. If some individuals are unable to get information from others because they don’t associate with the knowledgeable individuals, or they are too shy to use the information once they have it, information may not travel between all group members, preventing the formation of a culture based on social learning.

The study, published in PeerJ, is the result of Dr Carter’s research for her PhD at the Australian National University. Now at the University of Cambridge, Dr Carter will continue to work with the Tsaobis Baboon Project, a long-term project run by the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology.

She will return to Namibia in April and June to set up a new study examining whether the baboons’ social network really affects from whom they get social information.

Like other social animals, baboons learn from each other about which foods are best to eat. Now, researchers at Cambridge have found that how well they learn from others depends on their personality, bold or anxious baboons learning more than those who are shy or laid back.

Our findings suggest that animals may perform poorly in cognitive tasks not because they aren’t clever enough to solve them, but because they are too shy or nervous to interact.
Dr Alecia Carter
Social learning in baboons

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Wendy Whitmore visits the Department

From Department of Zoology. Published on Mar 06, 2014.

Nick Crumpton appears on BBC 4 series about the vertebrate skeleton

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

Graduate Symposium 2014

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

Why Museum of Zoology in Cambridge dismantled 70ft whale skeleton

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

Cambridge News slideshow of the whale being dismantled

Science lessons for MPs

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

Dr Denholm doesn't just study flies...

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

Seven of the more unusual areas of scientific research

Professor Derek Smith on global pandemics

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

Radio 4 'Frontiers' programme available now

Museum of Zoology specimens on display in London

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

BBC TV News: Launch of New Museum of Zoology Appeal

From Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 26, 2014.

How stick insects honed friction to grip without sticking

By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 19, 2014.

When they’re not hanging upside down, stick insects don’t need to stick. In fact, when moving upright, sticking would be a hindrance: so much extra effort required to ‘unstick’ again with every step.

Latest research from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology shows that stick insects have specialised pads on their legs designed to produce large amounts of friction with very little pressure. When upright, stick insects aren’t sticking at all, but harnessing powerful friction to ensure they grip firmly without the need to unglue themselves from the ground when they move.     

In a previous study last year, the team discovered that stick insects have two distinct types of ‘attachment footpads’ - the adhesive ‘toe pads’ at the end of the legs, which are sticky, and the ‘heel pads’, which are not sticky at all. The insect uses different pads depending on direction and terrain. 

By studying the ‘heel pads’ in more detail, researchers discovered the insects have developed a way to generate massive friction when walking upright. They do this through a system of tiny hairs that use combinations of height and curvature to create a ‘hierarchy’ of grip, with the slightest pressure generating very strong friction - allowing stick insects to grip but not stick.

The researchers say the study - published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface - reveals yet another example of natural engineering successfully combining “desirable but seemingly contradictory properties of man-made materials” - namely, the best of both hard and soft materials - simply through clever structural design.

“Just by arrangement and morphology, nature teaches us that good design means we can combine the properties of hard and soft materials, making elemental forces like friction go a very long way with just a small amount of pressure,” said David Labonte, lead researcher from the Department of Zoology.

The power of friction relies on ‘contact area’, the amount of close contact between surfaces. In rigid materials, such as steel, even the tiniest amount of surface roughness means there is actually relatively little ‘contact area’ when pressed against other surfaces - so any amount of friction is very small.

On the other hand, soft materials achieve a lot of contact with surfaces, but - due to the larger amount of contact area - there is also a certain amount of adhesion or ‘stick’ not there with hard materials.

To solve this, stick insect’s hairy friction pads employ three main tricks to allow contact area to increase quickly under pressure, creating a scale or ‘hierarchy’ of grip with absolutely no stick:

• Both the pad itself and the tips of the hairs are rounded. This means that, when pressure is applied, more contact area is generated - like pushing down on a rubber ball.
• Some hairs are shorter than others, so the more pressure, the more hairs come into contact with the surface.
• When even more pressure is applied, some of the hairs bend over and make side contact - greatly increasing contact area with very little extra force.

These design features work in harmony to generate large amounts of friction with comparatively tiny amounts of pressure from the insect. Importantly, there is hardly any contact area without some tiny amount of pressure - which means that the specialised ‘frictional hairs’ don't stick.

Arrays of tiny hairs have been found before, for example on the feet of geckos, beetles and flies. However, these hairs are designed to stick, and are used when creatures are vertical or hanging upside down.

Sticky hairs are completely aligned and have flat tips - meaning that they immediately make full contact that hardly changes with additional weight - as opposed to friction hairs, with their higgledy-piggledy height ranges and rounded tips.

“We investigate these insects to try and understand biological systems, but lessons from nature such as this might also be useful for inspiring new approaches in man-made devices,” said Labonte.

He uses the example of a running shoe as a possible man-made item that could be enhanced by stick insect engineering: “If you run, you don’t want your feet to stick to the ground, but you also want to make sure you don’t slip.” 

Adds Labonte: “Stickiness is the force that is needed to overcome when trying to detach one thing from another. If the soles of your feet were made of Scotch tape, it may be helpful when you are walking up walls or hanging upside down, but the rest of the time it would be incredibly frustrating.”

“Stick insects have developed an ingenious way of overcoming the conflict between attachment and locomotion, with a dual pad system that alternates between stick and grip depending on the situation.”

Inset image: Scanning electron microscopy image of conical, micrometre-sized outgrowths that cover the tarsal ‘heel pads’ of some stick insects (false colours). Image by David Labonte & Adam Robinson.

Scientists have discovered that, when upright, stick insects don’t stick. Instead, they deploy special hairy pads designed to create huge amounts of friction from the tiniest of pressure increases - ensuring that the insects grip but don’t stick.

Lessons from nature such as this might also be useful for inspiring new approaches in man-made devices
David Labonte
Stick insect

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Classical connection

By aja43 from University of Cambridge - Department of Zoology. Published on Feb 17, 2014.

Also in the Lent Term edition, our lady in the long coat goes behind the scenes at the new sports centre and finds staff and students enjoying everything from wattbikes and trampolining, to weightlifting and fives.

We find out how preparations are going as the city prepares to welcome the 101st edition of the Tour de France, unveil a special cartoon strip telling the story of how zoologist Nick Crumpton teamed up with artist Isaac Lenkiewisz to create a book designed to inspire the next generation of palaeontologists. And, on a more serious note, bring you news of a film exploring Cambridge’s role in supporting exiles from the 1973 military coup in Chile.

Regular sections cover the latest appointments, awards and honours in the University – and there’s even a Tweeting bird box at Murray Edwards.

An in-depth look at why Latin continues to play an important role at Cambridge is just one of the features in the latest University Newsletter, distributed to staff this week.

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Yes

Science's Invertebrate of the Year: Top-Gear Planthopper

From Department of Zoology. Published on Jan 28, 2014.

"Merry Crypsis" Christmas Party

From Department of Zoology. Published on Dec 17, 2013.

Professor Marlene Zuk discusses women and science

From Department of Zoology. Published on Dec 04, 2013.

The Professors’ Award for Outstanding Contribution

From Department of Zoology. Published on Nov 20, 2013.

Ian Goldstone and Matt Lowe are joint winners of this year’s Award for Outstanding Contribution. They were presented with the awards at the Newcomers’ Party on Thursday 14th November. This annual award is to recognise and reward a member of staff who has gone that extra mile for the Department in the last year.

Prize-winning work published in Developmental Cell Nov 11th 2013

From Department of Zoology. Published on Nov 12, 2013.

Tip cells act as dynamic cellular anchors in the morphogenesis of looped renal tubules in Drosophila by Helen Weavers and Helen Skaer.

Winners of the Graduate Poster Competition!

From Department of Zoology. Published on Oct 24, 2013.

Professor Rufus Johnstone - Leverhulme Trust Research Grant

From Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 06, 2013.

Adaptive modeling of human infant growth

Dr Claire Spottiswoode - Leverhulme Trust Research Grant

From Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 06, 2013.

The role of phenotypic plasticity in driving a remarkable adaptive radiation

Dr Rose Thorogood - Society In Science Research Grant

From Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 05, 2013.

Dr Rose Thorogood - NERC Fellowship

From Department of Zoology. Published on Aug 02, 2013.

Landscapes of information: how information use affects ecological communities