Specialist Subjects: Foraging ecology, physiology and behaviour of a range of animal species (with particular emphasis on marine endotherms), via remote-sensing and data-logging technology
Rory Wilson is currently Head of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES), a professor of Aquatic Biology and Postgraduate Research Admissions Tutor for Biosciences.
He was born in Northamptonshire, England and studied Zoology at Oxford University before moving to the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa to do his PhD, completed in 1985. He undertook post-doctoral work at Bamfield Marine Station, Canada and Gothenburg, Sweden, before working as a research scientist in the Institut fur Meereskunde, Kiel, Germany. He was awarded his chair by Swansea University in 2004.
Research has been directed toward attempting to understand how warm-blooded, air-breathing animals, only secondarily adapted for an aquatic existence, manage to exploit the marine environment effectively.
Initially, work concentrated primarily on the group of birds that was most extremely specialized for a marine lifestyle, the penguins (Spheniscidae), using them as a model for other groups. Much time has been invested devising suitable methodology to be able to study these birds at sea. This led to development of remote-sensing systems carried by the study animals to record their movements, behaviour and, at the same time to measure the physical characteristics of their environment. Using these systems it has proved possible to examine how marine animals partition their time in the three dimensional environment in which they forage and particularly with respect to the limitations that have been imposed on them.
Marine air-breathing animals are a special case for studying foraging strategies since they can only acquire food underwater where they can operate for short periods before they have to return to the surface for gas exchange. Energy expenditure (as a function of swim speed, water temperature etc.) determines the time available and the depths that the animals can exploit while underwater so it can be assumed that there is strong selection pressure for judicious management of all relevant parameters. Recent work has focused on determining how seabirds and marine mammals may optimize foraging in their environment, maximizing investments in terms of time and energy. Due to the universal importance of activity-dependent metabolic rate and the necessity that animals have of balancing their energy budgets, considerable time has been invested in attempting to quantify energetic expenditure and gain in free-living animals. The development of new technology to study marine animals is now so advanced that it allows theoretical optimal foraging models to be examined in free-living marine species, something which has long been considered intractable, even for terrestrial species where visual observation is comparatively simple. Realization of this, and definition of basic optimal foraging parameters for marine vertebrates (which are often quite different from those encountered in terrestrial systems), can be considered a long-term goal which is now practically possible.
Finally, this new technology is now being developed for a broad suite of animals, both vertebrate and invertebrate, terrestrial and aquatic. Current work thus involves shellfish and fish as well as terrestrial and marine mammals, birds and reptiles. The desire to see logging technology used in a variety of fields is based on a profound belief that this approach allows users to perceive their study animals and the environment in a particular and novel way. Cognisance of this is liable to lead to major new insights in the way animals function in their environment.
Fossette, S. Gleiss, A. C., Myers, A. E., Garner, S., Liebsch, N., Whitney, N. M., Hays, G. C., Wilson, R. P., Lutcavage, M. E. (2010). Behaviour and buoyancy regulation in the deepest-diving reptile: the leatherback turtle. Journal of Experimental Biology. 213: 4074-4083.
Gleiss, A., Wilson, R. P., Shepard, E. L. C. (in press). Making dynamic body acceleration work: on the theory of acceleration as a proxy for energy expenditure. Methods in Ecology and Evolution
Gleiss, A., Norman, B., Wilson, R. P. (2010) Moved by that sinking feeling; Variable energetic costs of diving geometry underlie distinct movement strategies in the whale shark. Functional Ecology (In press).
Gleiss, A. C., Dale, J. J., Holland, K. N., Wilson, R. P. (2010). Accelerating estimates of activity-specific metabolic rate in fishes: Testing the applicability of acceleration data loggers. Journal of Experimental Biology and Ecology (in press).
Gomez-Laich, A., Wilson, R. P., Gleiss, A. C., Shepard, E. L. C., Quintana, F. (In press). Use of Overall Dynamic Body Acceleration for estimating energy expenditure in free-living animals; does locomotion in different media affect relationships. Journal of Experimental Biology and Ecology (in press).
Halsey, L. G., Shepard, E. L. C., Wilson, R. P. (2010). Assessing the development and application of the accelerometry technique for estimating energy expenditure. Comparative Biochemical Physiology A (in press).
Moloney, C. L., St John, M. A., Denman, K. L., karl, D. M., Köster, F. W., Sundby, S., Wilson, R. P. (2010). Weaving marine food webs from end to end under global change. Journal of Marine Systems 84: 106-116.
Quintana, F., Wilson, R. P., Dell’Arciprete, P., Shepard, E. L. C., Gómez Laich, A. (2010). Women from Venus, men from Mars: inter-sex foraging differences in the imperial cormorant Phalacrocorax atriceps a colonial seabird. Oikos (in press).
Robson, A. A., Garcia de Leaniz, C., Wilson, R. P., Halsey, L. G. (in press). Effect of anthropogenic feeding regimes on activity rhythms of laboratory mussels exposed to natural light. Hydrobiologia 655: 197-204.
Robson, A. A., Garcia de Leaniz, C., Wilson, R. P., Halsey, L. G. (2010). Behavioural adaptations of mussels to varying levels of food availability and predation risk. Journal of Molluscan Studies 76; 348-353.
Shepard, E. L. C., Wilson, R. P., Gomez Laich, A., Quintana, F. (2010). Buoyed up and slowed down: speed limits for diving birds in shallow water. Aquatic Biology 8; 259-267.
Wilson, R. P. (2010). Resource partitioning and niche hyper-volume overlap in free-living Pygoscelid penguins. Functional Ecology 24; 646-657
Wilson, R. P., Shepard, E. L. C., Gomez-Laich, A., Frere, E., Quintana, F. (2010). Pedalling downhill and freewheeling up; a penguin perspective on foraging. Aquatic Biology 8: 193-202.
Wilson, R. P., Watanuki, Y., Miyazaki, N., Stewart, B. S. (2010). Working beneath the surface: interplay of biomechanics, physiology and behavioural ecology in diving seabirds. Aquatic Biology 8; 191-192.
Wilson, R. P. (2011). The price tag. Nature 469: 164-165.
Wilson, R. P., McMahon, C. R., Quintana, F., Frere, E., Scolaro, J. A., Hays, C. G, Bradshaw, C. J. A. (2011). N-dimensional energetic niches clarify behavioural options in a variable marine environment. Journal of Experimental Biology 214; 646-656.
Zimmer, I., Wilson, R.P., Beaulieu, M., Ropert-Coudert, Y., Kato, A., Ancel, A., Plötz, J. (2010). Dive efficiency versus depth in foraging emperor penguins. Aquatic Biology 8; 269-277.
Marine Ecology Progress Series (Consulting editor)
Endangered Species Research (Consulting editor)
NERC Peer Review College, 2001-4