Reproduction. In many animals and plants annual cycles of events from reproduction through migration to metabolism are regulated by the regular changes in photoperiod. My colleagues and I focused upon reproduction in birds and mammals. In the case of birds it is the photoperiodic clock which sets the overall timing of when to breed and then during the final phases, particularly in the female, the precise moment of breeding is tuned by immediate environmental factors such as temperature, food availability, nest building etc. Our research investigated the underlying physiology of these strategic photoperiodic response in birds (using Japanese quail as the “model” species and also starlings, seagulls, albatrosses and various other birds) and in mammals (sheep, hamsters, foxes and badgers).
We focused upon:
- how and where daylight is detected (brain photoreceptors in birds, the eye in mammals)
- the circadian-based clock that measures photoperiod
- the neural and endocrine chain within the brain leading to increased secretion of gonadotrophins from the pituitary gland and hence gonadal development
Some research continues, largely with Professor Russell Foster and his colleagues who work upon circadian rhythms in the Medical School.
My primary activity in the Department has been undergraduate teaching within the second year theme entitled “Adaptations to the Environment”. The lectures focused upon higher vertebrate physiology and how mammals and birds adapt to living in extreme environments.
My career has been in research & teaching within Zoology Departments (Leeds, Bangor, Bristol and Oxford). I was the Head of Department at Bristol for 15 years and then moved to become Vice-Chancellor at the University of Warwick until the early 2000's. For the subsequent decade (until 2011) I was heavily involved in government, chairing the agency responsible for school teacher training (TDA), the initiatives to stimulate STEM in schools and universities, and the Arts & Humanities Research Council. I play various roles also in the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe Theatre.