Theme: Physiological and Behavioural Ecology of Marine Organisms

Glasgow has a long history of basic research into the biology of aquatic animals. We have particular expertise in fish, seabirds and marine mammals. We also have great strength in quantitative biology, applied to a wide range of topics in marine ecology.

Temperature preference

Current research in this area includes how variation in energetic demand and allocation within species are linked with social behaviours, foraging and predator avoidance, life-history strategies, and responses to environmental stress (e.g. changes in temperature or oxygen availability). This work provides basic knowledge of ecology but also has a range of applications including informing fisheries management, understanding the impacts of invasive species, and studying the effects of environmental change.

Selected publications

Marine mammal carcasses

An example of a piece of basic ecological research is a project on the fate of marine mammal carcasses. Despite these being a large and highly predictable source of food, their importance in the coastal environment has hardly been studied.

While this started as a pure blue-skies piece of research it is now becoming clear that marine mammal carrion could be important to threatened gull species, which are currently dependent on discarded fish from trawlers (a source that is due to disappear due to changes in EU policy).

Coral reefs

Coral reefs marine represent one of the most valuable sources of biodiversity on Earth and also one of the habitat types most likely to be impacted by environmental change. More information is urgently needed regarding the functioning of coral reef ecosystems and several researchers at Glasgow study the ecology, physiology, and behaviour of coral reef organisms at various locations around the globe.

Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

At the Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, we study how energetic demand and aerobic capacity affect the foraging and social behaviours of young reef fishes, and how such links between physiology and behaviour may by altered by factors associated with climate change.

We also have work the Red Sea in collaboration with the Open Ocean Research Centres and Suez Canal University, which involves research, field courses and student expeditions Subjects include fish behaviour and the biology of coralline algae.

Juvenile ambon damselfish, marked for identification with elastomere Juvenile ambon damselfish in respirometers, being measured for metabolic rate
Juvenile ambon damselfish, marked for identification with elastomere Juvenile ambon damselfish in respirometers, being measured for metabolic rate

Selected publications

How Smart are Fish?

Graphic featuring Huntingford cartoon



An interactive educational project developed by Dr. Martina Quaggiotto in collaboration with Prof. Felicity Huntingford - supported by the University of Glasgow along with two sponsors, The Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI) and the Buckland Foundation.

A commonly-held view sees fish as robot-like animals with no intelligence, little capacity for learning and a 15 second memory. A large and growing body of scientific information indicates that this is far from the truth. Fish, in fact, have a well-developed capacity for learning and a good memory when this is needed. In addition, while fish species surely differ in their mental capacities and behaviour, within the group as a whole there are many that perform complex behaviours that in mammals would be deemed intelligent or “smart”. 

The dissonance between popular image and reality arises because most people do not have the time or opportunity to discover just how complex fish behaviour is, although they are often surprised and interested by the idea that animals that are so different from ourselves  share many complex behavioural capacities with birds and mammals. On the other hand, traditional fishers and anglers (who take part in the largest participation sport in the world) have both the opportunity and the need to find out about fish behaviour, so it is interesting to know their views on whether or not fish are smart.  For scientists, the special interest of fish behavioural complexity and cognition lies in the fact that this is the phylogenetically-oldest vertebrate group, so their behaviour can inform understanding of the evolution of our own behavioural capacities. 

We therefore, created an interactive e-learning presentation “How smart are fish?” to engage the general public and let them find out about the interesting complexity of fish behaviour, its implications for the effectiveness of commercial and recreational fisheries and what traditional fishers and anglers know on this topic.  In this presentation, we summarise some of the knowledge shared by scientists and fishers on just how smart fish are and give you links to more detailed contents (scientific articles) and additional resources (online videos and news). 

If you would further information on this fascinating project, or indeed to give any feedback, please email  please contact


How Smart Are Fish Interactive Educational Project 

Dr. Maria Martina Quaggiotto Research Pages

Naturally Speaking Podcast 49: How Smart are Fish?

fish border graphic

Fish Biology Group
The Institute has a particularly strong and diverse Fish Biology Research Group investigating the behaviour, physiology, and ecology of fishes. Follow them on Twitter ( and find them on Facebook (


See related Special Interest Groups for related work on marine organisms