Personal profile

Research

Born and raised in Australia, I studied the odd but highly rewarding combination of physics and entomology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, receiving a first class honours degree in physics in 1985. In 1990 I completed my PhD on the optics of arthropod superposition compound eyes at the Australian National University in Canberra, under the supervision of the late George Adrian Horridge and Peter McIntyre, using introduced South African dung beetles as model organisms. During my PhD I developed a keen interest in how the optics of eyes are optimised for life at different light levels, an interest that flowed naturally from the genus of dung beetles I was studying (Onitis), whose members are nocturnal, crepuscular or diurnal.

Dung beetles and deep-sea fish

My time in Lund began in 1990 when Dan Nilsson invited me to undertake a postdoctoral fellowship with him. It was during this time that I began to develop a strong interest in not only how the eyes of nocturnal animals are optimised to improve nocturnal vision, but also how early and higher stages of visual processing might improve visual performance at night. At the same time, I also became totally fascinated by how deep-sea animals deal with the profound darkness of the deep, and this led me on several expeditions to sea. But it was the chance opportunity of participating in a scarab biology conference in South Africa in 1996 that rekindled my love of dung beetles and their visual ecology and led me to start a project on the visual orientation of nocturnal and diurnal ball-rollers. Marie Dacke joined the Vision Group soon after (as a PhD student) and together we discovered the remarkable celestial compass systems that these beetles use to hold a straight rolling course (which Marie continues to study with great success), earning an IgNobel prize for our work in 2013.

Visual performance in nocturnal insects

In parallel I also began working on the vision and visual performance of two remarkable nocturnal insects: the European elephant hawk moth Deiliphila elpenor and the central American sweat bee Megalopta genalis. Together with Almut Kelber, Anna Stöckl and David O’Carroll, I unravelled a number of optical and neural principles that these insects use to see colour at night, to navigate to and from their home in a dark rainforest and to detect faint optic flow during flight. In a collaboration with Toyota, we converted these principles into computer vision algorithms that dramatically improve dim-light camera imaging. Our work to understand the superior nocturnal vision of these insects continues to this day!

A remarkable nocturnal navigator

In recent years, I turned my attention to the remarkable long-distance migration of the nocturnal Australian Bogong moth Agrotis infusa, a project I first dreamed up as a PhD student long ago in Canberra. Travelling over 1000 km to a specific destination it has never previously visited (high alpine caves in the Australian Alps), we discovered that this moth uses the Earth’s magnetic field and the stars as compasses to find its way. We are now trying to understand how the brain processes these cues, and how the specific journey each moth has to make is programmed into its genetic code. Fortunately, I have a house and a lab in the Australian Alps which we use for this work, which happily allows me to return to Australia regularly!

Besides research, I have been a main organiser of the International Conferences of Invertebrate Vision (founded in 2001), as well as the well-known international PhD student course Sensory Ecology. I am a past president of the International Society of Neuroethology, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, a Corresponding Member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, a Corresponding Member of the Australian Academy of Science, Member of the German Academy of Science Leopoldina and a Fellow of the Royal Physiographic Society of Lund. Following Dan’s retirement in 2022, I also took over the leadership of the Lund Vision Group and since 2024 I am the head of the new Division of Sensory Biology. I have edited or authored three books (Invertebrate Vision, Cambridge 2006; Visual Ecology, Princeton 2014; The Ecology of Animal Senses, Springer 2016) and am on the editorial boards of the Journal of Comparative Physiology Aand the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

UKÄ subject classification

  • Zoology

Free keywords

  • insect vision, nocturnal vision, visual ecology, animal migration, navigation, magnetoreception

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Collaborations the last five years

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