My research group focuses on the cognitive processes and sensory mechanisms by which non-human animals are able to navigate with such remarkable precision. We work on this question at a
number of spatial scales, from long distance homing and migration in birds and bats, to small scale spatial memory in fish. We use a variety of techniques to study their behaviour, from
GPS tracking of whole journeys, to radio tracking of initial decisions, orientation cages as proxies for migration direction, and small scale experiments in maze learning paradigms.
Alongside my students, postdocs and collaborators I have a number of active projects on aspects of this fascinating phenomenon.
Long distance migrating animals return to the same breeding grounds year after year and are able to correct for displacements to places they have never previously visited. This remarkably
ability, called true navigation remains unresolved. It seems to require a map and a compass component but the sensory cues and cognitive processes by which animals achieve this continue
to be debated. Postdoctoral researcher Florian Packmor is working on the project AnimalMapUnravelled in collaboration with Oldenberg University and the Biological Station Rybachy to
investigate how migratory songbirds such as the Eurasian reed warbler combine both compass and positional cues into their map for navigation. The Bat Navigation project is a collaboration
with the IZW Berlin and the Pape Ornithological station in Latvia, investigating the sensory cues used by migrating bats for both compass and map components of true navigation.
As well as the spectacular feats of long distance navigation, animals show a remarkable ability to learn and remember locations in space. There are multiple theories as to how they do
this but the idea of a "cognitive map" internal representation of space has predominated. It remains controversial however, as to whether such a map exists, how it is encoded and how it
interacts with other mechanisms of spatial memory. My research group is investigation this question at a number of scales: Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow Ingo Schiffner is
investigating the cues that are used by homing pigeons using novel analytical techniques in the project NavMap and PhD student Charlotte Griffiths is looking at how homing pigeons
reconcile conflict between spatial cues and the interaction between cognitive and physiological decisions within the AnimalMapUnravelled project. A separate line of work is investigating
the spatial memory abilities in fish from the laboratory model zebrafish, to other more exotic species such as wealky electric fish. Previous work has looked into the role of personality
in spatial cognition, and compared shoals and individuals performance in maze tasks. MScRes student James Blane is continuing this line of research in the AquaticSpatialCognition project.
Current lab members:
Ingo Schiffner (Marie Sklodowska-Curie research fellow)
Florian Packmor (Postdoctoral researcher)
Charlotte Griffiths (PhD student)
James Blane (MScRes student)
Previous lab members:
Stefan Greif (Postdoctoral researcher, Queen's University Belfast)
Lorrain Chivers (Postdoctoral researcher, Queen's University Belfast)
Dmitry Kishkinev (Postdoctoral researcher, Queen's University Belfast, Bangor University)
Katherine Snell (Co-supervisor, PhD student Copenhagen University)
Kyriacos Kareklas (PhD student, Queen's University Belfast)
Claire McAroe (PhD Student, Queen's University Belfast)
K. Kareklas, G. Arnott, R. W. Elwood, R. A. Holland (2018)
Relationships between personality and lateralization of sensory inputs
Animal Behaviour 141:127-135.
N. Chernetsov, A. Pakhomov, D. Kobylkov, D. Kishkinev, R. A. Holland, H. Mouritsen (2017)
Migratory Eurasian reed warblers can use magnetic declination to solve the longitude problem
Current Biology 27 (17):2647-2651. e2.
K. Kareklas, G. Arnott, R. W. Elwood, R. A. Holland (2016)
Plasticity varies with boldness in a weakly-electric fish
Frontiers in zoology 13 (1):22.
M. Wikelski, E. Arriero, A. Gagliardo, R. A. Holland, M. J. Huttunen, R. Juvaste, I. Mueller, G. Tertitski, K. Thorup, M. Wild (2015)
True navigation in migrating gulls requires intact olfactory nerves
Scientific reports 5:17061.
O. Lindecke, C. C. Voigt, G. Petersons, R. A. Holland (2015)
Polarized skylight does not calibrate the compass system of a migratory bat
Biology letters 11 (9):20150525.
R. Holland (2014)
True navigation in birds: from quantum physics to global migration
Journal of Zoology.
S. Greif, I. Borissov, Y. Yovel, R. A. Holland (2014)
A functional role of the sky’s polarization pattern for orientation in the greater mouse-eared bat
Nature communications 5:4488.
R. A. Holland, B. Helm (2013)
A strong magnetic pulse affects the precision of departure direction of naturally migrating adult but not juvenile birds
Journal of The Royal Society Interface 10 (81).
R. A. Holland, I. Borissov, B. M. Siemers (2010)
A nocturnal mammal, the greater mouse-eared bat, calibrates a magnetic compass by the sun
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (15):6941-6945.
R. A. Holland, K. Thorup, A. Gagliardo, I. Bisson, E. Knecht, D. Mizrahi, M. Wikelski (2009)
Testing the role of sensory systems in the migratory heading of a songbird
The Journal of experimental biology 212 (24):4065-4071.
R. A. Holland, J. L. Kirschvink, T. G. Doak, M. Wikelski (2008)
Bats use magnetite to detect the earth's magnetic field
PLoS One 3 (2):e1676.
K. Thorup, I. Bisson, M. S. Bowlin, R. A. Holland, J. C. Wingfield, M. Ramenofsky, M. Wikelski (2007)
Evidence for a navigational map stretching across the continental US in a migratory songbird
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104 (46):18115-18119.
R. A. Holland, K. Thorup, M. J. Vonhof, W. W. Cochran, M. Wikelski (2006)
Navigation: bat orientation using Earth's magnetic field
Nature 444 (7120):702-702.
R. A. Holland, M. Wikelski, D. S. Wilcove (2006)
How and why do insects migrate?
Science 313 (5788):794-796.
2017-current, Senior Lecturer, Bangor University
2016-2017, Lecturer, Bangor University
2011-2016, Lecturer, Queen's University Belfast
2009-2010, Research scientist, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
2006-2008, Marie Curie Outgoing International fellow, Princeton University and University of Leeds
2002-2005, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Leeds
1999-2002, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Nebraska
1994-1998, DPhil, Oxford University
1990-1993, BSc (Hons), University of Nottingham