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Ecology and Conservation

Dr Emmanuelle Briolat

Dr Emmanuelle Briolat

Research Fellow

 Stella Turk Building G3.06


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


I have broad interests in behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology, but am especially keen to apply research in the field of animal visual signalling to issues of conservation concern. My current research focuses on the impacts of light pollution on the visual ecology of nocturnal moths.

Before beginning my PhD, I worked as a research assistant, studying first camouflage in cuttlefish, then parental behaviour in burying beetles. As part of my BBSRC funding, I also completed a short rotation project in the Psychology Department at the University of Exeter, focusing on edge perception and flight behaviour in bumblebees. Since then, the central theme of my research has been coloration and visual communication in Lepidoptera. My PhD investigated the form and function of warning signals in day-flying burnet moths (Lepiodptera: Zygaenidae), focusing in particular on the question of quantitative signal honesty in these species.  As a post-doctoral research associate in the Sensory Ecology and Evolution group, I investigated the relative benefits of generalist and specialist background-matching camouflage strategies for prey in complex natural environments, using both field and online experiments. Additional projects include the role of high-contrast markings in butterfly wing patterns, and camouflage evolution under different lighting conditions. I currently work as a research fellow with Dr Jolyon Troscianko, Prof Kevin Gaston and Dr Jonathan Bennie, investigating how light pollution affects flower visitation, orientation and antipredator defences in nocturnal moths. 

Aside from academic research, I regularly write popular science articles for the MRC’s Biomedical Picture of the Day website, and have published a children's book on the visual defences of moths and butterflies.

Broad research specialisms:

  • Behavioural Ecology
  • Sensory Ecology
  • Light pollution


2018: PhD (University of Exeter)

2016: MA (University of Cambridge)

2012 : BA Hons (1st class) in Natural Sciences – Zoology (Girton College, University of Cambridge)


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Research projects

Project Title: Insect warning signals and predator vision

Supervisors: Martin Stevens and Jon Blount

Funding Body: BBSRC SWDTP

Project Description:
This project examined the form and functon of warning colouration in Lepidoptera, with a particular emphasis on day-flying burnet moths (Zygaenidae). My research combined photography & image analysis, toxin quantification and predation experiments in the field, to investigate signal honesty in the six-spot burnet Zygaena filipendulae and related species. 

Project Title: Hawkmoth visual ecology under artificial lights

Collaborators: Jolyon Troscianko, Kevin Gaston, Jonathan Bennie, Emma Rosenfeld

Project Description: 
Artificial lighting is a growing threat for natural systems, with the potential to interfere with the visually-guided behaviours of many species. Here we focus on a species with impressive and well-studied nocturnal visual capabilities, the elephant hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor, and use low light visual modelling to investigate the impact of different types and intensities of artificial lighting on key aspects of its visual ecology: flower detection for pollination, intra-specific signalling, and detection by potential predators. 

Project Title: How to optimise imperfect camouflage

Principal Investigator: Martin Stevens 

Collaborators: Anna Hughes, Lina Arenas

Funding Body: BBSRC 

Project Description: 
This project investigates the effectiveness of generalist and specialist background-matching strategies for prey occuring on multiple distinct backgrounds, and complex natural habitats. To test how quickly specialist and generalist targets are detected, we are using a series of online and field-based search tasks wih human volunteers. Play our latest game here.

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Journal articles

Troscianko J, Briolat ES, Gaston KJ, Bennie J, Rosenfeld EJ (In Press). Artificial nighttime lighting impacts visual ecology links between flowers, pollinators and predators. Nature Communications
Hughes A, Briolat E, Arenas L, Liggins E, Stevens M (In Press). Varying benefits of generalist and specialist camouflage in two versus four background environments. Behavioral Ecology
Briolat ES, Hancock GRA, Troscianko J (2024). Adapting genetic algorithms for artificial evolution of visual patterns under selection from wild predators. PLOS ONE, 19(5), e0295106-e0295106. Abstract.
Kikuchi DW, Allen WL, Arbuckle K, Aubier TG, Briolat ES, Burdfield-Steel ER, Cheney KL, Daňková K, Elias M, Hämäläinen L, et al (2023). The evolution and ecology of multiple antipredator defences. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 36(7), 975-991. Abstract.
Yorzinski JL, Troscianko J, Briolat E, Schapiro SJ, Whitham W (2022). A songbird can detect the eyes of conspecifics under daylight and artificial nighttime lighting. Environmental Pollution, 313, 120000-120000.
Briolat ES, Arenas LM, Hughes AE, Liggins E, Stevens M (2021). Generalist camouflage can be more successful than microhabitat specialisation in natural environments. BMC Ecol Evol, 21(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Caro T, Argueta Y, Briolat ES, Bruggink J, Kasprowsky M, Lake J, Mitchell MJ, Richardson S, How M (2019). Benefits of zebra stripes: Behaviour of tabanid flies around zebras and horses. PLoS ONE, 14(2). Abstract.
Briolat E, Zagrobelny M, Olsen C, Blount J, Stevens M (2019). No evidence of quantitative signal honesty across species of aposematic burnet moths (Lepidoptera: Zygaenidae). Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 32, 31-48.
Briolat E, Burdfield-Steel E, Paul S, Rönkä K, Seymoure B, Stankowich T, Stuckert A (2018). Diversity in warning coloration: selective paradox or the norm?. Biological Reviews Abstract.
Briolat E, Zagrobelny M, Olsen, CE, Blount J, Stevens M (2018). Sex differences but no evidence of quantitative honesty in the warning signals of six-spot burnet moths (Zygaena filipendulae L.). Evolution, 77, 1460-1474.

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