Dr. Christos Ioannou


Since first studying animal behaviour I’ve been interested in the evolution of group living and how groups form and are maintained. My research has covered multiple aspects of group living, including more subtle group properties such as why groups show polarisation (all individuals facing the same direction) or leadership rather than being egalitarian. I generally use fish as a model system to test predictions and assumptions of theoretical models; working alongside modellers has been and continues to be a big part of my research.

Collective behaviour is a very inter-disciplinary area of research as it has importance to any organism that interacts socially, from microbes and plants all the way to humans. Although my training is very much in animal behaviour and behavioural ecology, I try to keep a broad perspective and collaborate with researchers in other fields. This includes physics and mathematics which provides a solid theoretical grounding for group processes and new analytic tools, and psychology which has a long history of studying social relationships in humans, many aspects of which apply to non-human animals as well.


As with most researchers I have been heavily shaped by the research groups I’ve been lucky enough to work in. Doing my PhD with Prof. Jens Krause at the University of Leeds (Jens is now back in Berlin, at the Leibniz Institute) was a great training in how to design and carry out behavioural experiments with fish, write papers, and think like a behavioural ecologist. I had freedom to pursue my own research interests and develop my own style of experiment. Moving on to Prof. Iain Couzin’s lab at Princeton University as a postdoc was quite a change, with most of the lab members there being mathematically and computationally focused. This was great for me as I had enjoyed working with such folks before, and it really helped me develop communication skills with those who hadn’t been trained as biologists (think physics, computer science, and applied mathematics backgrounds) but who were interested in similar research questions. Being one of few experimental biologists in the lab I had plenty of opportunities to develop new experimental approaches, such as a ‘virtual prey’ system for studying predation and training fish to spatial targets to test models of group decision making. Iain’s approach of using advanced tools such as computer tracking allows a much richer and detailed measurement of behaviour than is usually achieved and this is something that I utilise in my own research now. I also learnt a lot from Iain about thinking beyond animal behaviour to how our research can learn from, and contribute to, other fields. Finally, I spent a year as a teaching fellow in animal behaviour in Exeter university’s School of Psychology, which again exposed me to new ways of approaching research, and gave me an appreciation of the experimental and statistical rigour that is standard in psychological experiments.

Since 2011 I have been a research fellow at the University of Bristol, initially on a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship and now as a NERC Independent Research Fellow. Without any teaching until I become a lecturer here in 2018, all my time is spent on research.


We’re growing the research group – if you’re interested in the work we do and joining the lab or collaborating, please get in touch.


Current people

Andrew Szopa-Comley

After a few months as a technician in the group, Andy has now joined us as a NERC GW4+ PhD student. He’s plenty experienced, having worked at PLoS Biology and studied at Exeter (MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology) and Cambridge (BA Natural Sciences (Zoology)). He’s working on the robot prey system, which will be a big part of his PhD.

Chris Poole

Chris has started a Masters by Research, coming straight from his undergraduate degree at Reading where he achieved a first class degree. Chris is studying group dynamics in shoals of fish and exploring what affects, and is affected by, these behaviours.

Caroline Liddell

Caroline transferred her PhD to the group in September 2016, also funded by the NERC GW4+. She’s working on a really exciting project, how parasite infection interacts with behaviour in sheep (a new direction for the lab!). She’s cosupervised by Dr. Eric Morgan and Dr. Colin Torney.

Dr. Hannah MacGregor

Hannah has joined the lab as a research assistant for a few months conducting her own experiment, exploring detection of prey by shoals of sticklebacks. Having done an excellent job, we’re keen to find her funding to keep her on!

Elliott Scott

Elliott joined the group in 2017. His main supervisor is Dr. Sabine Hauert, from the Bristol Robotics Lab, although he’ll be spending plenty of time in the fish labs exploring how shoaling behaviour in cichlids in linked to their morphology and sensory systems.

Dr. Amy Wade

Amy has been working with us in the lab on collective motion of fish, and we’re currently working on her data. Things are looking promising for an excellent paper coming out soon!

Past people

Cormac Kinsella

After helping to set up new experiments with seabass, Cormac has left for continental Europe and a ERASMUS masters degree. Hopefully he'll be back for a PhD!

Louise Kremer

Louise was with us for half a year on an internship from Agrosup in Dijon, France. After running two whole experiments and tracking these using idTracker in only 5 months, she has returned to finish her degree. Our paper with Louise has just been accepted and is coming out soon!

Nick McDonald

Nick was a Master by Research student in the group from 2014-2016. Nick worked on personality, group decisions and learning in sticklebacks, and has his first paper out now: https://tinyurl.com/yaywuxx6