Dr Barbara Helm

Dr Barbara Helm

  • Reader (Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine)
  • MA (Diplom) Biology, University of Tuebingen, Germany (1997); MA Philosophy, University of Tuebingen (1997)
  • PhD Biology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich, Germany (2003)

Contact details:

Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Graham Kerr Building & Jarrett Building, Garscube Estate
University of Glasgow
UK - Glasgow G12 8QQ
Tel: +44 (0)141 330 2797 (Graham Kerr), 330 5794 (Garscube)

E-mail: Barbara.Helm@glasgow.ac.uk

Research interests: Chronobiology, ornithology, migration

Publications: For current list of publications, click here

Further functions:

  • President (August 2013), European Ornithologists' Union
  • Deputy director, SCENE field station

Theme: Biological clocks in the real world

Theme: Biological clocks in the real world

Living organisms are exposed to predictable, periodic change in their environments. Keeping track of and anticipating these fluctuations is often highly relevant for well-being, reproduction and survival. Chronobiology, the study of adaptations to cope with geophysical cycles, has revealed an almost ubiquitous presence of endogenous biological clocks that help organisms keep pace with periodic change. Research on biological rhythms has been hugely successful over the last decades and is rapidly gaining importance in many fields.  "Time Research" is one of seven identified fields of prospective key importance for scientific and technological development, according to a recent "Foresight" study. However, in contrast to a progressively more detailed understanding of molecular mechanisms, we know surprising little about the functioning and relevance of biological clocks in "the real world" (Michael Menaker). Together with colleagues and students, we aim at integrating the great knowledge base derived from lab-based research with whole-organism studies under natural conditions. We pursue this goal by studying circadian and daily rhythms, as well as circannual and seasonal cycles. We are also interested in life-histories and physiological traits that relate to seasonality, and in particular in annual migration. I’m widely interested in clocks of all organisms but my own research focuses on biological time-keeping in birds.

Clocks, calendars and life-histories of birds

Studies of birds have been key for advances in various fields of biology, including chronobiology. Being conspicuous by sight and sound, birds have been closely investigated, and extense life-history information is available. This background is an asset for the interpretation of novel findings and makes them ideal for establishing links between physiology and ecology. For chronobiology, birds are particularly interesting subjects because their outstanding mobility implies a need for sophisticated and robust internal time-keeping, for example during long-distance migration to remote target areas. Annual and daily schedules of birds are readily observed and experimentally tested, and can be related to the context of avian ecology and evolution.