Published papers

On this page I give a brief description of my published scientific papers, most recent first. If they are not open access, I provide a pre-print.

Social Networks and Personality Development

Article #5. The influence of social interactions on personality

“Social interactions shape individual and collective personality in social spiders”
Hunt ER, Mi B, Fernandez C, Wong BM, Pruitt JN, Pinter-Wollman N. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2018.

This paper is the main result of my 2017 postdoc at UCLA, and I think it’s very interesting. Spiders are normally solitary creatures, but rarely they live socially in the same nest and capture prey together on a shared web (maybe 20 species out of 45,000). Stegodyphus dumicola social spiders have become a model organism for the study of animal personality and the importance of group composition for adaptive collective behaviour, because individuals vary with respect to their ‘personality’: traits like boldness. The presence of just one bold individual can substantially boost their collective prey capture success. Yet too many bold individuals could impair other group functions such as childcare. How is this distribution of behavioural types generated within the group? In this paper we found a relationship between social interactions – huddling with neighbours – and personality change over time. Such social dynamics can replace lost bold individuals with new ones, making spider colonies robust to change.

The methodology employed to obtain this result is ‘stochastic actor oriented models’, to analyse statistically the relationship between social networks and changing nodal variables (boldness). Originally developed for sociological studies, it’s becoming increasingly popular in biology to examine the thorny co-dynamics of personality influencing social interactions, and social interactions influencing personality.

A proof of the paper is available here (minor changes in published version).

Morphological asymmetries and lateralization

Article #4. Mechanistic explanation for turning bias

“Asymmetric ommatidia count and behavioural lateralization in the ant Temnothorax albipennis
Hunt ER, Dornan C, Sendova-Franks AB, Franks, NR. Scientific Reports, 2018.

Following my ‘leftward turning bias’ paper (see below) Prof Martin Giurfa kindly wrote an F1000 recommendation for it, where he suggested looking at ommatidia counts as a mechanistic explanation for the bias. Well, in summer 2015 I had a go at doing this with an undergraduate student (Ciara Dornan), and in April 2018 we finally published a paper about this (I mention Martin in the Acknowledgements section). We enjoyed the investigation and learned something about electron scanning microscopy, and found that in fact most of the ants had an asymmetric ommatidia count. This was found to be correlated with the direction they turned in a branching nest sight.

I am not planning to do further biological work on lateralization but it would be wonderful if someone continued this line of research. Perhaps examining differential ommatidia count in a social vs. a non-social species of bee? (Hypothesis: more obvious asymmetry in the social species).  I will enjoy watching this area of research in the coming years!

The usefulness of social insects for biology

Article #3. A review article in TREE on social insects.

“Deconstructing superorganisms and societies to address big questions in biology”
Kennedy P, Baron G, Qiu B, Freitak D, Helanterä H, Hunt ER, Manfredini F, O’Shea-Wheller T, Patalano S, Pull CD, Sasaki T, Taylor D, Wyatt CDR, Sumner S. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 2017.

This review article (proof, some minor changes in final version) considers how useful social insects are to scientists for understanding social behaviour and evolution. In particular, their societies can be easily deconstructed and manipulated, and advancements in e.g. tracking make it ever easier to study exactly how the group has evolved to solve problems. This paper was produced following a meeting of the IUSSI in Bristol (the NW section)  in Dec 2015.

Motor planning in ants

Article #2. A study of individual ant movement patterns.

“Ants determine their next move at rest: motor planning and causality in complex systems”
Hunt ER, Baddeley RJ, Worley A, Sendova-Franks AB, Franks NR. Royal Society Open Science, 2016.

This paper studied in detail the movement behaviour of individual ants, as they left their nest and explored an unfamiliar empty arena. Careful analysis of their movement trajectory gave indications that the duration of their movement bouts could be predetermined somehow. I considered the implications of this for complex systems, if it was in fact the case.

Lateralization (turning biases) in ants

Article #1. Lateralization in ants.

“Ants show a leftward turning bias when exploring unknown nest sites”
Hunt ER, O’Shea-Wheller T, Albery GF, Bridger TH, Gumn M, Franks NR. Biology Letters, 2014.

This was my first journal article, and followed a short visit from a then-undergraduate at Oxford Zoology, Greg Albery, who is now pursuing a PhD at Edinburgh. We looked at the turning behaviour of individual ants in nest cavities and branching ‘mazes’ to see whether there was a group-level preference to turn one way over another. Given the slightly amusing topic, there was significant media interest, and I gave interviews at BBC Radio Bristol, and National Public Radio in the USA. The paper was also F1000 recommended by Prof Martin Giurfa.

Modelling cultural dynamics

Conference Paper #1. Statistical physics applied to cultural networks.

“Modelling Cultural Dynamics: A Macroscopic Approach To Cultural Transmission In The Prehistoric Aegean”
Evans TS, Hunt ER, Knappett C, Rivers RJ. European Conference on Complex Systems (ECCS), Dresden, 2007.

My third year project at Imperial College was written up into this conference paper at ECCS. We used a statistical physics approach to modelling complex networks of cultural exchange in the prehistoric Aegean. My supervisors Dr Evans and Prof Rivers later published a highly cited journal paper on this theme in the leading archaeology journal Antiquity.