Joseph Bartram

D.Phil Student

Academic Background

I completed my BA in Biological Sciences with first class honours at Balliol College, Oxford in 2013.  My undergraduate thesis focused on the evolution of unusual transmission genetics in mealybugs, and was awarded a certificate of commendation by the Zoological Society of London.  After that, I worked for a year as a research assistant in the Oxford Zoology department, pursuing a project examining the possible role of magnetoreception in mediating short-range navigation in Astyanax fasciatus.

Current Research

My research examines how and why animals learn and attend to different sources of information, and how this impacts their behaviour and ecology.  I am particularly interested in how – if at all – animals consider the reliability of sensory information, and if this impacts how that information is used.  Coming from a theoretical background in animal learning theory, I use operant conditioning approaches to train subjects to complete a range of simple behaviour tasks.  Combining this with techniques such as sensory restriction, I can tease out subtle features of their underlying sensory processing and cognition.  My work uses a number of different fish species as subjects (principally the Picasso triggerfish; Rhinecanthus aculeatus, and Peter’s elephantnose fish; Gnathonemus petersii).  Fish provide a number of advantages as subjects in behavioural experiments – small, tractable, and providing a fascinating taxonomic outgroup as a comparison to a field that has primarily focused on mammalian models

I recently completed a series of experiments investigating informational weighting in triggerfish. When presented with multiple potential cues to solve a problem, triggerfish dynamically adjust their relative reliance on visual information according to the quality of that information, increasingly biasing their decisions towards other sources of information as visual information becomes unreliable.  While analyses are ongoing, initial data suggests that this weighting corresponds to a Bayesian inference model.  I am currently finalising a draft manuscript summarising these results.


joseph bartram