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Ecology and Conservation

Dr Daniel Sankey

Dr Daniel Sankey

Postdoctoral Researcher

 Stella Turk Building 


University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE


My research focusses on social behaviour and collective behaviour in animal groups. Specifically I ask questions about the evolution of social behaviours or phenotypes, then attempt to answer these by identifying mechanisms which support predictions.

Animal tracking technology (Drone footage/ GPS/ accelerometry/ magnetometry) allows me to utilise my talents for coding and geometry. I use a variety of coding software in my PhD to visualise, transform and analyse data.

Current position: Overview of my role and interaction with collaborators.

As part of a large interdisciplinary team led by Michael Cant, we will investigate an evolutionary understanding of how competition between groups influences collective decision-making.

With the support of Dan Franks (University of York), I will learn and utilise learning machine learning algorithms to identify individual mongooses from drone footage, and furthermore, the influence of particular individuals over collective decisions of the group. We will be collecting these data to test theory driven hypotheses, from models which I will help build with the support of Rufus Johnstone (University of Cambridge) and Michael Cant (University of Exeter). Social network analysis will be aided by Darren Croft (University of Exeter). All of the above will be supported by mongoose, fieldwork, and intergroup conflict expert Faye Thompson (University of Exeter).


PhD Biological Sciences (2016-2019). Royal Holloway University of London.

MRes Biosciences (2015-2016). Swansea University

BSc Chemistry (2006-2009). University of Bristol

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Journal articles

Sankey DWE, Portugal SJ (2023). Influence of behavioural and morphological group composition on pigeon flocking dynamics. Journal of Experimental Biology, 226(15). Abstract.
Sankey DWE (2022). 'Selfish herders' finish last in mobile animal groups. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 289(1985). Abstract.
Papadopoulou M, Hildenbrandt H, Sankey DWE, Portugal SJ, Hemelrijk CK (2022). Emergence of splits and collective turns in pigeon flocks under predation. Royal Society Open Science, 9(2). Abstract.
Sankey DWE, Hunt KL, Croft DP, Franks DW, Green PA, Thompson FJ, Johnstone RA, Cant MA (2022). Leaders of war: Modelling the evolution of conflict among heterogeneous groups. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 377(1851). Abstract.
Sankey DWE, Biro D, Ricketts RL, Shepard ELC, Portugal SJ (2022). Pigeon leadership hierarchies are not dependent on environmental contexts or individual phenotypes. Behavioural Processes, 198 Abstract.
Papadopoulou M, Hildenbrandt HL, Sankey DWE, Portugal SL, Hemelrijk C (2022). Self-organization of collective escape in pigeon flocks. PLOS COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY, 18(1).  Author URL.
Sankey DWE, Storms RF, Musters RJ, Russell TW, Hemelrijk CK, Portugal SJ (2021). Absence of “selfish herd” dynamics in bird flocks under threat. Current Biology, 31(14), 3192-3198.e7. Abstract.
Sankey DWE, O'Bryan LR, Garnier S, Cowlishaw G, Hopkins P, Holton M, Fürtbauer I, King AJ (2021). Consensus of travel direction is achieved by simple copying, not voting, in free-ranging goats. Royal Society Open Science, 8(2).
Ricketts RL, Sankey DWE, Tidswell BP, Brown J, Deegan JF, Portugal SJ (2021). Overall dynamic body acceleration as an indicator of dominance in Homing Pigeons (Columba livia). Ibis, 164(2), 581-586.
Portugal SJ, Usherwood JR, White CR, Sankey DWE, Wilson AM (2020). Artificial mass loading disrupts stable social order in pigeon dominance hierarchies. Biology Letters, 16(8).
Sankey DWE, Shepard ELC, Biro D, Portugal SJ (2019). Speed consensus and the ‘Goldilocks principle’ in flocking birds (Columba livia). Animal Behaviour, 157, 105-119.
Sankey DWE, Portugal SJ (2019). When flocking is costly: reduced cluster-flock density over long-duration flight in pigeons. The Science of Nature, 106(7-8).

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