I lead the Animal Behaviour Lab at the University of Sydney. Our research covers a wide range of topics in the field of animal behaviour, with a particular focus on the incredible diversity of animals who live in groups, which was the topic of the academic book I wrote with Mike Webster recently ‘Sociality: The Behaviour of Group Living Animals‘. Within the general theme of sociality, we have a particular emphasis on collective behaviour, especially the coherent movements of animals in swarms, shoals, flocks, herds and crowds. In addition to this, we’re interested in the sensory ecology of animals, how they collect information and learn, and how they integrate their information to make decisions. Historically, our research has centred on fish as model experimental systems but lately we’ve diversified to include ants, krill, birds, mammals and even humans in our research.

A full list of publications is available on my Google Scholar profile

Current Research

What’s the secret to krill swarms?

We’re working with the Australian Antarctic Division to work out the secrets of krill swarms. This aesthetically-pleasing plot is one of many we’ve produced alongside our friend, collaborator and mathematical colossus, Timothy Schaerf. More news soon.

Improving the lives of domestic livestock

We’re applying our research to a wide range of different animals, including a new collaboration with Sabrina Lomax on livestock behaviour and welfare, starting with cattle

Be a virtual predator and hunt down hidden gobies

If you’re a prey animal, camouflage works best when you’re still, but you need to move to get both your victuals and your oats. We designed an online game as a step to understanding how prey animals might balance this conflict. Play here

Recently Published

How do prey avoid predator attacks?

The extraordinary Mia Kent conducted a fine-scale analysis of prey behaviour under predation risk to examine how they tailor their behaviour to their dynamic assessment of threat levels. Read here

Kent, Maud I.A., Herbert-Read, James E., McDonald, Gordon, Wood, A. Jamie and Ward, Ashley J.W. (2019) Fine-scale behavioural adjustments of prey on a continuum of risk. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

How does group size affect decision-making?

For many animals, group-living provides valuable benefits. Those benefits can start to tail off as group size increases and, in this decision-making context, very large groups can stifle innovation. Read here

Ashley Ward and Michael Webster (2019) Mid-sized groups perform best in a collective decision task in sticklebacks
Biology Letters.

Speed and its effects on grouping behaviour

More tremendous work from the industrious Kent, examining how animal group structures change as the animals speed up. Left is positional frequency when slow moving, right is when fast. Read here

Maud I. A. Kent, Ryan Lukeman, Joseph T. Lizier and Ashley J. W. Ward (2019) Speed-mediated properties of schooling
Royal Society Open Science

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