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Psychology Research Seminar with Professor Tom Dickens

Event information

START DATE 16 February 2017
START TIME 12:00pm

College Building C133, Middlesex University, the Burroughs, London, NW4 4BT

END DATE 16 February 2017
END TIME 01:00pm

Prof Tom Dickins presents his research on the behavioural adaptation of the Kittiwakes

The Department of Psychology introduces Professor Tom Dickins, Professor of Behaviour Science at Middlesex University, who will present his research, Life on the Edge: The first two years of a long-term study of Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla).

Everyone welcome - no need to book in advance.

Research background

The Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) is a much studied colonial cliff-nesting seabird. Kittiwakes are of interest due to their behavioural adaptations to cliff nesting but also due to their canary status. Kittiwake populations have been in marked decline for the last 25 years and are now red-listed. This is thought to be due to climate induced food stress.

The majority of studies have focused upon northern colonies. In the U.K. these have predominantly been around the north east coast off North and South Shields, and the north west coast of Scotland. The status of southern Kittiwakes, especially on the Atlantic fringe, has been less well studied.

In 2015, after some years of initial scoping, we began a formal study of a focal colony on Lundy, an Atlantic island off the north Devon coast. Kittiwakes colonies on this island have been in decline for many years, and a number of colonies have failed. It is not clear whether or not this failure is due to food stress.

Other issues, including predation, seem to play a role in reducing the population; especially the predation of eggs and chicks. In this talk I will discuss the pressures faced by Kittiwakes, and some of what is known about their behavioural adaptations. I will also overview two years of what we plan as a very long term study.

Thus far we have been developing our methods for estimating average clutch size at the colony, as this is a key index of investment by breeding adults. Typically, colonies are only monitored by counting apparently occupied nests, but this measure introduces a number of inaccuracies and fails to fully capture Kittiwake decisions.

Finally, I will broaden the discussion with some speculations about the broader food web dynamics on the island, and how predator decisions may be influenced by human actions.


Tom Dickins is professor of behavioural science at Middlesex University.

His background is in psychological sciences (BSc; CNAA), philosophy of science (MSc; London) and evolutionary psychology (PhD; Sheffield); and much more recently, ecology (PG Cert; Oxford).

His research interests fall into behavioural ecology and theoretical concerns within evolutionary biology. Previously Tom has worked on reproductive scheduling in humans, evolution and development, and concepts of causation in evolution.

Presently he is working on gull species; the Kittiwakes of this talk and urban gulls (Laridae) in London and Bath.

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