Dr Peter Cotton

Dr Peter Cotton

Associate Head of School (Marine Biology)

School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)


Associate Head of School (Marine Biology)


BSc, University of Dundee (1987)
DPhil, University of Oxford (1993)
PGC LTHE, University of Plymouth (2001)
Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2016)

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)

Professional membership

Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy


Teaching interests

In the first year I teach on MBIO120 Introduction to Marine Biology and on the MBIO123 Marine Biology Field Course to Brittany. I also teach about vertebrates and animal behaviour on MBIO121 Life on Earth, and mate choice on BIOL124PP Biology of Sex.

My second year teaching is largely field-based. I run the Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology field course in South Africa (MBIO213) which is usually in September. At the end of the year I'm involved a non-residential field course based at the marine station. This course covers experimental design, sampling from boats and statistical analysis of the data we collect (MBIO224).

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 Tony Knights 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.

Pete Cotton's page on Google Scholar.

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

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. Funding: MARES. Complted 2016.

Julian Evans. PhD. habitat characterisation of infralittoral pebble beds in the Maltese islands. (Jointly supervised with Prof Martin Attrill & Prof Patrick Schembri, University of Malta). Funding: STEPS, Malta). Completed 2014.

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.


Key publications are highlighted

Simmons BI, Vizentin-Bugoni J, Maruyama PK, Cotton PA, Marín-Gómez OH, Lara C, Rosero-Lasprilla L, Maglianesi MA, Ortiz-Pulido R & Rocca MA 2019 'Abundance drives broad patterns of generalisation in plant–hummingbird pollination networks' Oikos , DOI PEARL
Maruyama PK, Sonne J, Vizentin-Bugoni J, Martín González AM, Zanata TB, Abrahamczyk S, Alarcón R, Araujo AC, Araújo FP & Baquero AC 2018 'Functional diversity mediates macroecological variation in plant–hummingbird interaction networks' Global Ecology and Biogeography 27, (10) 1186-1199 , DOI PEARL
Sztukowski LA, Cotton PA, Weimerskirch H, Thompson DR, Torres LG, Sagar PM, Knights AM, Fayet AL & Votier SC 2018 'Sex differences in individual foraging site fidelity of Campbell albatross' Marine Ecology Progress Series 601, , DOI PEARL
Evans J, Attrill MJ, Borg JA, Cotton PA & Schembri PJ 2018 'Hidden in plain sight: species richness and habitat characterisation of sublittoral pebble beds' Marine Biology 165, (2) , DOI PEARL
Zanata TB, Dalsgaard B, Passos FC, Cotton PA, Roper JJ, Maruyama PK, Fischer E, Schleuning M, Martín González AM & Vizentin-Bugoni J 2017 'Global patterns of interaction specialization in bird-flower networks' Journal of Biogeography , DOI PEARL
Sztukowski LA, van Toor ML, Weimerskirch H, Thompson DR, Torres LG, Sagar PM, Cotton PA & Votier SC 2017 'Tracking reveals limited interactions between Campbell Albatross and fisheries during the breeding season' Journal of Ornithology 158, (3) 725-735 , DOI PEARL
Maruyama PK, Vizentin-Bugoni J, Sonne J, Martín González AM, Schleuning M, Araujo AC, Baquero AC, Cardona J, Cardona P & Cotton PA 2016 'The integration of alien plants in mutualistic plant-hummingbird networks across the Americas: the importance of species traits and insularity' Diversity and Distributions 22, (6) 672-681 , DOI PEARL
Sonne J, Martín González AM, Maruyama PK, Sandel B, Vizentin-Bugoni J, Schleuning M, Abrahamczyk S, Alarcón R, Araujo AC & Araújo FP 2016 'High proportion of smaller ranged hummingbird species coincides with ecological specialization across the Americas' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283, (1824) 20152512-20152512 , DOI PEARL
Cotton DRE, Joyner M, George R & Cotton PA 2015 'Understanding the gender and ethnicity attainment gap in UK higher education' Innovations in Education and Teaching International Author Site , DOI PEARL
Martín González AM, Dalsgaard B, Nogués-Bravo D, Graham CH, Schleuning M, Maruyama PK, Abrahamczyk S, Alarcón R, Araujo AC & Araújo FP 2015 'The macroecology of phylogenetically structured hummingbird-plant networks' Global Ecology & Biogeography PEARL
Chakravarti LJ & Cotton PA 2014 'The effects of a competitor on the foraging behaviour of the shore crab Carcinus maenas' PLoS One 9, (4) Author Site , DOI PEARL
Mowles SL, Cotton PA & Briffa M 2012 'Consistent crustaceans: the identification of stable behavioural syndromes in hermit crabs' BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY 66, (7) 1087-1094 Author Site , DOI
Dalsgaard B, Magard E, Fjeldsa J, Gonzalez AMM, Rahbek C, Olesen JM, Ollerton J, Alarcon R, Araujo AC & Cotton PA 2011 'Specialization in Plant-Hummingbird Networks Is Associated with Species Richness, Contemporary Precipitation and Quaternary Climate-Change Velocity' PLOS ONE 6, (10) Author Site , DOI PEARL
Mowles SL, Rundle SD & Cotton PA 2011 'Susceptibility to predation affects trait-mediated indirect interactions by reversing interspecific competition' PLoS One 6, (8) Author Site , DOI
Mowles SL, Cotton PA & Briffa M 2011 'Flexing the abdominals: do bigger muscles make better fighters?' Biol Lett 7, (3) 358-360 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) 277-282 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) 463-473 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) 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) 987-991 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) 735-740 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) 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 CrabPagurus bernhardus' Ethology 114, (10) 1014-1022 , DOI
GOMEZ LG, HOUSTON DC, COTTON P & TYE A 2008 'The role of Greater Yellow-headed Vultures Cathartes melambrotus as scavengers in neotropical forest' Ibis 136, (2) 193-196 , DOI
Dalesman S, Rundle SD, Bilton DT & Cotton PA 2007 'Phylogenetic relatedness and ecological interactions determine antipredator behavior' Ecology 88, (10) 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) 2134-2140
Cotton PA 2007 'Seasonal resource tracking by Amazonian hummingbirds' Ibis 149, (1) 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, 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, 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) 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) 151-155
Cotton PA 2004 'Habitat selection by song thrushes in stable and declining farmland populations' Journal of Applied Ecology 41 (2), 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) 536-545
Goodwin L & Cotton PA 2004 'The effects of boat traffic on the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus' Aquat. Mamm 30:, 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) 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) 12219-12222
Cotton P 2002 'Book Review :Howell, SNG (ed). Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide' Ibis 144,
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, 11-20
Cotton PA 2001 'The Behavior and interactions of birds visiting Erythrina fusca flowers in the Colombian Amazon' Biotropica 33, (4) 662-669
Whitehead SC, Wright J & Cotton PA 1999 'Patterns of winter field use by StarlingsSturnus vulgaris: how important is prey depletion?' Bird Study 46, (3) 289-298 , DOI
Cotton PA, Wright J & Kacelnik A 1999 'Chick begging strategies in relation to brood hierarchies and hatching asynchrony' AMERICAN NATURALIST 153, (4) 412-420 Author Site , DOI
Cotton PA 1998 'Coevolution in an Amazonian hummingbird-plant community' IBIS 140, (4) 639-646 Author Site , DOI
Cotton PA 1998 'Temporal partitioning of a floral resource by territorial hummingbirds' IBIS 140, (4) 647-653 Author Site , DOI
WRIGHT, BOTH, COTTON & BRYANT 1998 'Quality vs. quantity: energetic and nutritional trade‐offs in parental provisioning strategies' Journal of Animal Ecology 67, (4) 620-634 , DOI
Cotton PA 1998 'The hummingbird community of a lowland Amazonian rainforest' IBIS 140, (3) 512-521 Author Site , DOI
Rodriguez-Girones MA, Enquist M & Cotton PA 1998 'Instability of signaling resolution models of parent-offspring conflict' PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 95, (8) 4453-4457 Author Site , DOI
Bradbury RB, Cotton PA, Wright J & Griffiths R 1997 'Nestling sex ratio in the European Starling Sturnus vulgaris' JOURNAL OF AVIAN BIOLOGY 28, (3) 255-258 Author Site , DOI
RodriguezGirones MA, Cotton PA & Kacelnik A 1996 'The evolution of begging: Signaling and sibling competition' PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 93, (25) 14637-14641 Author Site , DOI
Whitehead SC, Wright J & Cotton PA 1996 'Measuring the impact of parental foraging by starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) on soil invertebrate prey availability: An exclosure experiment' OIKOS 76, (3) 511-521 Author Site , DOI
Cotton PA 1996 'Body size and ecology of hummingbirds' Symposia of the Zoological Society of London 69, 239-258
Cotton PA, Kacelnik A & Wright J 1996 'Chick begging as a signal: Are nestlings honest?' BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY 7, (2) 178-182 Author Site , DOI
1995 'Food allocation among nestling starlings: sibling competition and the scope of parental choice' Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 259, (1356) 259-263 , DOI
Wright J & Cotton PA 1994 'Song versus food: trade-off decisions in a breeding colony of European StarlingsSturnus vulgaris' Bird Study 41, (2) 95-101 , DOI
GREENWOOD JJD, COTTON PA & WILSON DM 1989 'Frequency-dependent selection on aposematic prey: some experiments' Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 36, (1-2) 213-226 , DOI
Conference Papers
Cotton PA 1996 'Body size and the ecology of hummingbirds' 239-258