"Experiencing current research at first hand has given me an insight into the workings of a career in science. I believe that this will enable me to make an informed decision about my future."
This summer, Abigail Cantor joined Dr Martin Stevens’ research group in the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge to work on the project 'The anti-predator function of animal spots' investigating what the most effective form of camouflage is.
Over eight weeks, Abigail created a range of artificial prey with different markings to try and test the 100 year old theory that high contrast distractive markings can work by drawing predator attention away from the body outline, preventing detection. However, in contrast to expectations, Abigail discovered that these high contrast markings actually increased levels of predation, compared to unmarked targets. Abigail also tested whether circular dark spots, as found in many insects and mammals, increase camouflage. The group found that circular markings were less successful at reducing predation than irregular markings with shapes found in the background.
Abigail created a number of artificial prey, which were then fixed to trees and monitored. Look hard to spot where it is!
Abigail was able to work on all aspects of the project over the 8 weeks of her bursary – from stimuli creation, to fieldwork, to analysis and interpretation of results, which have given her a range of training and experience.
It is likely that the results obtained during Abigail’s project will be published in three leading journals in the coming months, and Dr Stevens will also be presenting seminars in Newcastle, Lincoln Nebraska and Cambridge with the results from the bursary project featuring as an important component of these. Dr Stevens commented on the Nuffield Bursary Scheme that:
"The bursary is a valuable scheme for several reasons. On a personal level, being at an early stage of my career, it is extremely important to gain experience independently supervising students on a range of project types. This provides useful training for the prospect of supervising MSc and PhD projects, and to secure funding for these. It is also important for students to gain research experience before the process of applying for PhDs is already underway – I am sure that having a good level of research experience before the time of applying is important in helping a student to decide if a PhD is something they would like to do and encouraging them to stay in science."