19 November 2013: Why did the pigeon cross the road?

Dr Claire Postlethwaite, 7.30 pm Tuesday 19 November 2013. Holt Planetarium, Chambers St, Napier.

The November lecture was “Why did the pigeon cross the road? Modelling animal behaviour with mathematics”.  How migrating animals find their way over long distances remains one of the great, unanswered  questions facing biologists today. Despite intensive research for over 60 years, there has been no  convincing explanation of the mechanisms animals use for determining their position relative to a  target location. Dr Postlethwaite’s research in this area combines ideas from both mathematics and behavioural  ecology.

Due to their ease of handling and willingness to home, homing pigeons have long been the  experimental model for the study of animal navigation. Dr Postlethwaite and colleagues are developing a predictive mathematical model for how animals  navigate over long distances. These results will be applicable to a wide variety of migratory species.  They expect their results will explain how birds such as godwits can fly non-stop from Alaska to  New Zealand, a trip that requires locating a target only 2-3 degrees wide when migration begins.

Dr Claire Postlethwaite, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, Auckland University completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Cambridge. She specialises in research in Dynamical Systems, and mathematical models of animal behaviour. She was recently been awarded a Marsden Fast Start Grant for research in animal navigation.

A summary of Dr Postlethwaite’s research can be found at http://www.math.auckland.ac.nz/~claire/research.html

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