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QM research scientist is SET to exhibit at the House of Commons

Dr Ben Pitcher from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences has been invited to exhibit his research at the SET for Britain Exhibition 2012 at the House of Commons on 12 March 2012.

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Fallow Deer
Fallow Deer

The overall aim of SET for Britain is to encourage, support and promote Britain's early-stage and early-career research scientists, engineers and technologists who are the ‘engine-room’ of continued progress in and development of UK research and R&D, and ultimately of UK plc.

Dr Pitcher and Dr Alan McElligott are investigating communication in fallow deer - one of the most common and vocal deer species, found all over the UK and worldwide. Fallow bucks only vocalize during the breeding season and produce a single type of call, known as the ‘groan’. Mature males invest a large amount of time and energy in calling (up to 3000 times per hour), and lose up to 25 per cent of their body weight; spending their time calling and fighting instead of grazing.

The groans of fallow bucks are individually distinctive, but also appear to reflect changes in dominance amongst the herd from year to year. The calls also reveal how tired the males become towards the end of the rut, when their calls become shorter and higher pitched.

Dr Pitcher explained: “Using playback experiments, we investigate the roles of calling rate and caller fatigue on the perception of caller dominance. Our results show that call bouts produced at higher rates signal greater dominance, and that deer can perceive fatigue in calls, differentiating between calls produced early and late in the breeding season.”

Dr Pitcher hopes that by understanding selective pressures and how information is encoded in the deer’s vocalisations, he can build an understanding of the evolution of vocal signalling and language.

The SET for Britain Awards are made solely on the basis of the very best research work and results by an early-stage or early-career researcher. The 60 posters on display in each session represent the best in each field as part of a national competition for a prestigious Medal and substantial monetary prize.

Mr Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the SET for BRITAIN organising group of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee, will sponsor the exhibition and reception in the House of Commons Terrace Marquee on Monday 12 March 2012, during National Science and Engineering Week. The poster exhibitions and judging sessions will end with a reception and prize-giving.

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