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Professor Martin Stevens

Professor Martin Stevens has been at the University of Exeter in 2013

Prestigious medal honour for University of Exeter sensory ecology and behaviour expert

A University of Exeter expert has been awarded a prestigious medal for his cutting-edge research to explain the complexities of animal sensory systems, coloration, and behaviour.

Professor Martin Stevens is the 2020 recipient of the Zoological Society of London’s Scientific Medal, given for distinguished work in zoology.

His current research focusses on how camouflage works, including how colour change and behaviour in marine animals enables them to hide from predators, and the impacts of humans on this; recent work has shown how colour-changing crabs struggle to camouflage themselves when exposed to noise from ships. He also uses knowledge of animal vision to contribute to challenges in the human world, with his work on equine eyesight leading to changes in the way colours are used on jumps in horse sports such as racing and eventing.

Professor Stevens began his career at the University of Bristol, where his PhD examined how animal camouflage defeats predator vision, using a mixture of computational neuroscience and field experimental psychophysics. He was then awarded a prestigious research fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, where he continued this work on camouflage, as well as avian brood parasitism and mimicry. In 2009 he was awarded a major BBSRC David Phillips fellowship and a fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge. 

Professor Stevens moved to the University of Exeter in 2013, where he has led research studies on animal vision, the uses of colour in nature, and the processes enabling animals to adapt their colours to the environment around them. His work illustrates the interactions of evolutionary change, short-term plasticity, the environment, and vision on animal behaviour and survival.  

This involves using methods and ideas from computer science and experimental psychology, as well as ecology and evolution. Professor Stevens analyses various animal groups, especially insects, crustaceans, and birds. Most recently, his work has focussed on animal vision and coloration in marine environments, and in applied contexts including in welfare, the military, fisheries, and education. 

Since 2005 Professor Stevens has published more than 140 journal papers and three books and secured over £2.5m of funding from research councils and industry for his academic research. 

Professor Stevens has given more than 50 invited lectures around the world. He has undertaken significant work on the communication of science to the general public, including writing books for general audiences, appearing on a range of TV and media productions, and giving public lectures at the Royal Geographical Society, Royal Institution and Hay Festival. He has collaborated with world-renowned museums and organisations on major exhibitions, such as the NHM London, Frieze Art Foundation, Aintree Racecourse and California Academy of Sciences, and his research work has been covered widely in the media.

Stevens commented: “It is a great honour to be awarded this medal, and wonderful that all the hard work and enthusiasm has been recognised, not just by me but by many amazing lab members past and present.” 

The ZSL Scientific Medal has previously been given to two other University of Exeter academics – in 2013 to Professor David Hosken and in 2018 to Professor Steve Simpson.

Date: 16 October 2020

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