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James Foster

Group Leader

Our research focusses on how animals perceive and respond to polarized light, a property of light imperceptible to humans that nonetheless guides the behaviour of many animal species. In the past, work exploring the functions of polarization vision in animals, has ranged from differential conditioning in bumblebees, to startle responses in coral reef fishes, and orientation behaviour in nocturnal dung beetles.

Our current research uses the “waggle dances” of honeybees to investigate compass navigation. Honeybees were the first species shown to use a “polarization compass”, directing their foraging trips using patterns of polarization in the sky. To do this, they employ an internal map of the pattern of polarization across the sky.

We aim to better understand how the honeybee’s “sky map” trades off flexibility against generalisation, especially when faced with more challenging conditions, such as clouds, haze and extremes of solar elevation distort the sky’s polarization pattern. To achieve this, we combine cutting edge methods for automated detection and decoding waggle dances with state-of-the art statistical modelling and novel methods for reproducing polarized light in the lab.

Each year between April and September with we run behavioural experiments with honeybees, and welcome applications for student assistant positions during this time.





james.foster [at]


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