Dr Robert Thomas
1. Climate change biology
What are the biological impacts of climate change? I am investigating the effects of climate on individuals, populations and ecological processes - particularly how such effects may be mediated by the behaviour of individual animals. My current work in this field focuses on three main topics:
(i) Effects of climate changes on trophic relationships in marine ecosystems
The body mass regulation behaviour of the smallest Atlantic seabird (the European storm-petrel) changes between years in response to climate-driven changes in sea temperatures. I am currently investigating how these changes are mediated by changes in the marine food webs on which storm petrels rely. Read the project blog for all the latest news from the project.
(ii) Effects of climate changes on stopover ecology of migrant songbirds
Migration is one of the major challenges to survival faced by many animals, and the availability of food and other resources along the migration route is of critical importance to successfully completing the journey. I combine experimental manipulations of food availability and analyses of long-term bird ringing databases, to examine the effects of climate changes on body fat deposition rates and stopover durations of migrant songbirds along their migration routes.
iii) Effects of climate changes on animal populations
I am investigating the associations between past climate changes and changes in population size, as well as studying the impact of climate changes on the food supplies on which animals depend. The existence of these types of associations has important implications for conserving biodiversity in the face of future climate change.
2. Eye design in birds & visual constraints on behaviour
How do animals decide when to be active? My research focuses on the role of eye design and visual constraints in an animal’s behavioural decisions, particularly under varying light levels at twilight and at night. Specific projects have examined eye size and the timing of singing (in songbirds) and foraging (in shorebirds). Current studies involve the analysis of phylogenetic constraints on the evolution of eye design and visually-guided behaviour, as well as field studies of the impacts of light pollution.
3. Dietary wariness and foraging ecology
When a forager encounters an unfamiliar object, it must decide whether to eat it and risk being poisoned (if it is toxic) or avoid it and risk missing out on a valuable food source (if it is palatable). Foragers generally show brief aversions to novel objects (neophobia) but some individuals also show a much more persistent aversion to eating novel foods (dietary conservatism), which can last for weeks or even years. I am currently investigating the function, control and evolutionary consequences of these aspects of dietary wariness, in a range of taxonomic groups.
4. Impacts of human activities on wild animals
A storm petrel bird
Large numbers of wild animals are captured, handled, often marked for individual identification, and released in the course of scientific research and conservation monitoring programmes. Surprisingly, little is known about the effects of capture and handling on the animals themselves. I am investigating the impact of capture and handling on the body mass regulation and foraging behaviour of birds throughout the annual cycle, and on the incubation routines and reproductive success of breeding birds. This work has important implications for the design and implementation of ethical field studies on wild animals.
External collaborations include: Nicola Marples & Dave Kelly (Trinity College Dublin), Mark Bolton (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), Jaime Ramos (University of Coimbra, Portugal), Colin Beale (Macaulay Institute), Innes Cuthill & Arthur Goldsmith (University of Bristol), Lucy Alexander (Waltham Foundation), Nicola Goodship (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust), Shai Markman (Israel), David Harper & Nick Bayly (University of Sussex), Jon Erichsen (Cardiff School of Optometry & Vision Sciences), Tamas Szekely (University of Bath), Llangorse Ringing Group, A Rocha Portugal & numerous storm petrel enthusiasts!
Eye design in birds & visual constraints on behaviour. Co-supervised by Kate Buchanan (Cardiff University)
Renata Medeiros: Impacts of climate change on the foraging ecology and migration behaviour of storm petrels. Co-supervised by Bill Symondson (Cardiff University), Jaime Ramos (Coimbra University, Portugal) & Mark Bolton (RSPB)
Loys Richards-Hobbs: Dietary conservatism in fish, and its evolutionary consequences for their prey. Co-supervised by Jo Cable & Siân Griffiths (Cardiff University) & Lucy Alexander (Waltham Foundation)
Adam Seward: Adam Seward: Impacts of climate changes on a long-distance migratory bird, the northern wheatear. Co-supervised by Colin Beale (Macaulay Institute) and Hefin Jones (Cardiff University).
Jenny Clapham: Biodiversity in biomass crops. Co-supervised with Fred Slater (Cardiff University)