Research in the Pulver lab revolves around understanding the neural basis of animal movement in an ecological context. We also work to increase access to research in neuroethology. We have several streams of work in the lab:


Drosophila is a wonderful model organism for neuroethologists with wide ranging curiousity about the genetic and neural basis of behaviour. Our work in Drosophila is aimed at uncovering principles of rhythm and pattern generation and action selection in locomotor networks. We use the larval locomotor system in Drosophila for our work because it offers an attractive compromise between complexity and tractability. One the one hand, larval locomotor networks are comprised of thousands of neurons, and larval locomotion is surprisingly complex, involving precise coordination many body segments and many degrees of freedom. On the other hand, Drosophila molecular genetic tools allow for identification and manipulation of single identified neurons, something that is difficult to achieve in larger networks. This combination allows for fine-grained manipulation of critical circuit components, but also provides toe-holds into understanding the genetic logic underlying circuit formation in locomotor networks. Work on Drosophila is highly integrative, involving everything from genetics, anatomy, electrophyisology, live imaging, computational modelling, animal behaviour and biomechanics. Since the Drosophila nervous system shares many of the same molecular genetic building blocks observed in spinal networks, our work is well positioned to provide insights and foundations for work in vertebrates.


In addition to Drosophila, we also work with Red Flour Beetle, Tribolium castaneum. This grain pest has evolved to live in extremely arid conditions, and movement of these animals through dry substrates is responsible for the destruction of stored grain all over the world. We are studying how the nervous systems of these animals controls movement over and through substrates and investigating how they navigate through the dry world of stored grain. Tribolium is well established in evolutionary and developmental research communities and also has an extensive genetic toolkit, which we are aiming to deploy in studies as this project progresses. We are aiming to use a combination of molecular genetics, electrophysiology, and quantitative analysis of animal behaviour on this project. We welcome feedback and participation from farmers and agricultural communities who have direct interest in controlling these pests.


In addition to traditional model organisims like Drosophila and Tribolium we also work with freshwater invertebrates like May flies, Stone flies, Caddis flies, and freshwater shrimp (together known collectively as ‘Riverflies’ by anglers). Our lab supports Guardians of our Rivers, a nationwide effort in Scotland led by BugLife Scotland and the RiverFly Partnership aimed at monitoring the health of rivers with citizen scientists. The basic idea is that by monitoring sets of invertebrate species with different tolerances to environmental stressors, we can develop new ways of gauging and protecting the health of UK rivers, all while engaging the public in research. We are currently adapting many of our lab based behavioural analyses for use out in the field with citizen scientists. After many years working in dark electrophysiology rig rooms, we are really excited to be going outside sometimes to do science.

Increasing access to science 

Another stream of work in our lab revolves around making cutting edge neuroethology accessible for educators and laypeople. Invertebrates are very cost effective vehicles for teaching principles of genetics, molecular biology, cellular physiology, and animal behaviour. As our research moves forward, in parallel, everyone in the lab is encouraged to think about how to ‘spin out’ aspects of their work to classrooms and teaching labs in ways that reduce financial and logistical barriers between researchers and educators.

Tracking environmental costs of research

We are conscious of the fact that our research incurs environmental costs. In the lab, we are now actively exploring ways of tracking, minimizing, and mitigating the environmental costs of our research. To try and focus this effort, all PhD students in the lab are encouraged to create a Sustainability Appendix to their PhD thesis. These appendices will attempt to estimate the environmental costs of  specific research activities undertaken during the PhD, and outline what was done to minimize and/or mitigate the environmental impact of the work. Our hope is that thesis by thesis, we will learn how to do science more sustainably.