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Research Fellows Directory

Theresa Burt de Perera

Dr Theresa Burt de Perera

Research Fellow


University of Oxford

Research summary

I have broad interests in animal cognition in general, but the main theme of my current research concerns the study of spatial cognition. My goal is to discover how animals orient efficiently in three-dimensional space – how they learn and remember information, and how these processes are shaped by the senses that are used to obtain spatial cues. Although we understand many of the mechanisms that animals use to orient horizontally from place to place, the vertical axis has been virtually ignored, despite the fact that many environments allow animals to move through all three-dimensions. This is critical, as without considering all of the axes of space we cannot hope to gain a full understanding of animal navigation – a behaviour that underpins animals’ survival and success.

In two main overlapping streams of research, I aim to discover firstly how fish learn and memorize information that allows them to navigate through their complex 3D surroundings, and secondly how information is perceived through the aquatic medium. To do this, I use an integrated approach of sensory (particular focusing on non-visual senses) and cognitive experiments that are based both in the lab and in the field.

My work overturns the strongly held perception of fish as non-sentient, cognitively uninteresting animals. I have shown that fish are able to learn and remember complex information, including the ability to navigate through volumes, which is something that humans and artificial intelligence systems find particularly difficult.

Grants awarded

Mapping the three-dimensional environment of fish

Scheme: Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship

Dates: Sep 2005 - Apr 2010

Value: £199,403.14