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Pete Cotton


Personal photograph uploaded by Pete Cotton

Pete Cotton

  • Job title: Associate Head of School, School of Marine Science and Engineering (Faculty of Science & Environment)
  • Address: Room 619, Davy Building, Drake Circus,
    Plymouth, Devon, PL4 8AA
  • Telephone: +441752584617
  • Facsimile: +44 (0)1752 232970
  • Email:


Associate Head of School (Marine Biology)
Assistant Programme Leader for
BSc Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology

Qualifications & background

BSc, University of Dundee (1987)
DPhil, University of Oxford (1993)
PGC LTHE, University of Plymouth (2001)

AFRC Research Assistant, University of Oxford (1991-1993)
NERC Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Oxford (1994-1996)
College Lecturer in Zoology, Pembroke College, University of Oxford (1997) 
Research Biologist, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (1998-2000)
Lecturer / Senior Lecturer, Unviversity of Plymouth (2000-present)


Teaching interests

In the first year I teach vertebrate biology (MBIO111), evolution and animal behaviour (MBIO1013), and help to run the ecosystems field course to Brittany (MBIO109).

My second year teaching covers experimental design and analysis (MBIO210) and the Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology field course in South Africa (MBIO213).

In the third year I teach behavioural ecology (MBIO317) and supervise research projects (MBIO313).

I was the programme leader for BSc Marine Biology & Coastal Ecology for seven years, and now help Dave Bilton to run the programme.


Staff serving as external examiners
External examiner for the University of St Andrews and the University of Malta.  

Research interests

I am a behavioural ecologist and of late I have primarily worked on predator-prey interactions and contest behaviour. I'm also interested in community ecology and anthropogenic impacts on ecological assemblages and phenology.

Recent publications

Dalsgaard, B. et al. (2011)  Specialization in Plant-Hummingbird Networks Is Associated with Species Richness, Contemporary Precipitation and Quaternary Climate-Change Velocity. PLoS one 6 (10), e25891

Mowles, S.L., Cotton, P.A. &  Briffa, M. (2010) Whole-organism performance capacity predicts resource-holding potential in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. Animal Behaviour 80: 277-282

Mowles, S.L., Cotton, P.A. &  Briffa, M. (2011) Flexing the abdominals: Do bigger muscles make better fighters? Biology Letters  doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.1079

Mowles, S.L., Rundle, S.D. & Cotton, P.A. (2011) Susceptibility to predation affects trait-mediated interactions by altering competitive success. PLoS One 6(8): e23068. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023068

For more details, look at my page on Google Scholar.

Current PhD students

Julian Evans. Habitat characterisation of infralittoral cobble beds in the Maltese Islands. With Dr Patrick Schembri, University of Malta.

Lisa Sztukowski. Individual foraging specialization and seabird fishery interactions: implications for albatross conservation. With Dr Steve Votier, University of Exeter, and Dr  Henri Weimerskirch, CNRS, France.


UoP Research group membership

Marine Biology & Ecology Research Centre (MBERC) 

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

Ahmed Al-Mazrouai, PhD. Phenotypic plasticity in marine intertidal gastropods. (Jointly supervised with Dr. S. Rundle). Funding: Sultanate of Oman. Completed 2009.

Sophie Mowles, PhD. Contest behaviour in hermit crabs. (Jointly supervised with Dr Mark Briffa). Funding: University of Plymouth Research Studentship. Completed 2009.

Sarah Dalesman, PhD. Anti-predator behaviour in the freshwater gastropod Lymnaea stagnalis. (Jointly supervised with Dr Simon Rundle). Funding: University of Plymouth Studentship. Completed 2007.

Lissa Goodwin, PhD. The ecology and conservation of the harbour porpoise (Phocena phocena) along the west coast of the UK. (Jointly supervised with Dr martin Attrill & Dr Nick Tregenza). Funding: private. Completed 2007.

Sarah Carless, PhD. The effect of human disturbance on oystercatcher prey selection and foraging behaviour on rocky shores. (Jointly supervised with Dr Ross Coleman, University of Sydney & Dr Richard Stillman, CEH). Funding: HEFCE COLLr. Completed 2006.

Gillian Groeger, PhD. The visual performance of the cuttlefish eye. (Jointly supervised with Prof. Roddy Williamson). Funding: HEFCE COLLr. Completed 2003.



Mowles SL, Cotton PA & Briffa M  (2012)  'Consistent crustaceans: the identification of stable behavioural syndromes in hermit crabs' BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY  66  (7),  pp 1087 - 1094  Author Site , DOI 
Mowles SL, Cotton PA & Briffa M  (2011)  'Flexing the abdominals: do bigger muscles make better fighters?' Biol Lett  (3),  pp 358 - 360  Author Site , DOI 
Dalsgaard B, Magard E, Fjeldsa J, Gonzalez AMM, Rahbek C, Olesen JM, Ollerton J, Alarcon R, Araujo AC, Cotton PA, Lara C, Machado CG, Sazima I, Sazima M, Timmermann A, Watts S, Sandel B, Sutherland WJ & Svenning J-C  (2011)  'Specialization in Plant-Hummingbird Networks Is Associated with Species Richness, Contemporary Precipitation and Quaternary Climate-Change Velocity' PLOS ONE  (10),   Author Site , DOI 
Mowles SL, Rundle SD & Cotton PA  (2011)  'Susceptibility to predation affects trait-mediated indirect interactions by reversing interspecific competition' PLoS One  (8),  p e23068  Author Site , DOI 
Cotton DRE, Stokes A & Cotton PA  (2010)  'Using Observational Methods to Research the Student Experience' JOURNAL OF GEOGRAPHY IN HIGHER EDUCATION  34  (3),  pp 463 - 473  Author Site , DOI 
Mowles SL, Cotton PA & Briffa M  (2010)  'Whole-organism performance capacity predicts resource-holding potential in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus' ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR  80  (2),  pp 277 - 282  Author Site , DOI 
Mowles SL, Cotton PA & Briffa M  (2009)  'Aerobic capacity influences giving-up decisions in fighting hermit crabs: does stamina constrain contests?' ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR  78  (3),  pp 735 - 740  Author Site , DOI 
Dalesman S, Rundle SD & Cotton PA  (2009)  'Crawl-out behaviour in response to predation cues in an aquatic gastropod: insights from artificial selection' EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGY  23  (6),  pp 907 - 918  Author Site , DOI 
Dalesman S, Rundle SD & Cotton PA  (2009)  'Developmental plasticity compensates for selected low levels of behavioural avoidance in a freshwater snail' ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR  78  (4),  pp 987 - 991  Author Site , DOI 
Cotton DRE & Cotton PA  (2009)  'Field biology experiences of undergraduate students: the impact of novelty space' JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL EDUCATION  43  (4),  pp 169 - 174  Author Site , DOI 
Mowles SL, Briffa M, Cotton PA & Spicer JI  (2008)  'The role of circulating metal ions during shell fights in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus' ETHOLOGY  114  (10),  pp 1014 - 1022  Author Site , DOI 
Dalesman S, Rundle SD, Bilton DT & Cotton PA  (2007)  'Phylogenetic relatedness and ecological interactions determine antipredator behavior' Ecology  88  (10),  pp 2462 - 2467
Dalesman S, Rundle SD & Cotton PA  (2007)  'Predator regime influences innate anti-predator behaviour in the freshwater gastropod Lymnaea stagnalis' Freshwater Biology  52  (11),  pp 2134 - 2140
Cotton PA  (2007)  'Seasonal resource tracking by Amazonian hummingbirds' Ibis  149  (1),  pp 135 - 142
Dalesman S, Rundle SD, Coleman RA & Cotton PA  (2006)  'Cue association and antipredator behaviour in a pulmonate snail, Lymnaea stagnalis' Animal Behaviour  71,  pp 789 - 797
Hauser A, Attrill MJ & Cotton PA  (2006)  'Effects of habitat complexity on the diversity and abundance of macrofauna colonising artificial kelp holdfasts' Marine Ecology-Progress Series  325,  pp 93 - 100
Groeger G, Cotton PA & Williamson R  (2005)  'Ontogenetic changes in the visual acuity of Sepia officinalis measured using the optomotor response' Canadian Journal of Zoology-Revue Canadienne de Zoologie  83  (2),  pp 274 - 279
Cotton PA, Sims DW, Fanshawe S & Chadwick M  (2005)  'The effects of climate variability on zooplankton and basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) relative abundance off southwest Britain' Fisheries Oceanography  14  (2),  pp 151 - 155
Cotton PA  (2004)  'Habitat selection by song thrushes in stable and declining farmland populations' Journal of Applied Ecology  41 (2),  pp 275 - 293 , DOI 
Jackson AC, Rundle SD, Attrill MJ & Cotton PA  (2004)  'Ontogenetic changes in metabolism may determine diet shifts for a sit-and-wait predator' Journal of Animal Ecology  73  (3),  pp 536 - 545
Goodwin L & Cotton PA  (2004)  'The effects of boat traffic on the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus' Aquat. Mamm  30:,  pp 279 - 283
Cotton PA, Rundle SD & Smith KE  (2004)  'Trait compensation in marine gastropods: Shell shape, avoidance behavior, and susceptibility to predation' Ecology  85  (6),  pp 1581 - 1584
Cotton PA  (2003)  'Avian migration phenology and global climate change' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  100  (21),  pp 12219 - 12222
Cotton P  (2002)  'Book Review :Howell, SNG (ed). Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide' Ibis  144,  p 360
Peach W, Taylor R, Cotton PA, Gruar D, Hill I & Denny M  (2002)  'Habitat utilisation by song thrushes Turdus philomelos on lowland farmland during summer and winter' Birds and Agriculture Aspects of Applied Biology  67,  pp 11 - 20
Cotton PA  (2001)  'The Behavior and interactions of birds visiting Erythrina fusca flowers in the Colombian Amazon' Biotropica  33  (4),  pp 662 - 669