Dr Sophie Mowles

Senior Lecturer

Faculty:Faculty of Science and Engineering

School:Life Sciences

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Animal and environmental biology

Research Supervision:Yes

Sophie is a behavioural ecologist whose research focusses on animal communication systems. She is particularly interested in the production of signals in both aggressive interactions and during courtship.



Sophie’s research focusses on the function of signals used in animal contests: the costs associated with signal production and what mechanistic constraints prevent an animal from signalling at a level beyond its capacity (i.e. what preserves signal honesty by preventing an animal from ‘cheating’ in the production of signals). Such signals may occur over a wide range of modalities (e.g. visual, acoustic, chemical and motion). However, these modalities are not limited to aggressive signals, but are also used in the contexts of courtship and in antipredator displays, all of which communicate something about the quality of the signaller to the receiver, be this the signaller’s prowess as a fighter, or its quality as a potential mate.

Sophie has investigated the costs and consequences of both aggressive and courtship signals using various invertebrate systems (hermit crabs, parasitoid wasps, crickets, hissing cockroaches and fiddler crabs), but she is interested in the behaviour of a range of both vertebrate and invertebrate taxa and how their behaviour may be affected by both internal and external stimuli. For example, given that signals are costly to produce, many animals may have to deal with additional costs in order to signal over anthropogenic interference in increasingly noisy environments.

Research interests

  • Animal contests: the production of agonistic signals and what determines fight outcomes
  • Courtship and mate choice: the investigation of the function of dynamic repetitive courtship displays
  • The evolution of costly signals
  • The fitness consequences of anthropogenic noise

Sophie is a member of our Behavioural Ecology Research Group.

Areas of research supervision

Sophie welcomes applications from postgraduate students interested in carrying out research projects in behavioural ecology. These might include, but are not limited to

  • animal signals
  • contests for resources
  • courtship and mate choice
  • physiological mechanisms determining animal behaviour

Find out more about our Biology PhD including our exciting PhD project opportunities.


  • PhD in Animal Behaviour, Plymouth University
  • BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology, Plymouth University

Memberships, editorial boards

  • Editorial Board Member for Biology Letters
  • Associate Editor for Acta Ethologica
  • Member of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB)

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

  • Reviewer for: Acta Ethologica, Animal Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Behaviour, Biology Letters, Bulletin of Marine Science, Canadian Journal of Zoology, Ecography, Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, Ethology, Helgoland Marine Research, the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, PLoS ONE, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences.

Selected recent publications

Mowles, S.L., Skicko, I.M., Sturrock, C.J., and Durrant, K.L. 2021. Differential effects of aerobic capacities on fight outcome in the Giant hissing cockroaches. Animal Behaviour, In Press.

Bent, A.M., Ings, T.C., and Mowles, S.L. 2021. Anthropogenic noise disrupts mate choice behaviors in female Gryllus bimaculatus. Behavioral Ecology, araa124.

Bent, A.M., Ings, T.C., and Mowles, S.L. 2018. Anthropogenic noise disrupts mate searching in Gryllus bimaculatus. Behavioral Ecology, 29 (6), 1271-1277.

Mowles, S.L., Jennions, M.D., and Backwell, P.R.Y. 2018. Robotic crabs reveal that female fiddler crabs are sensitive to changes in male display rate. Biology Letters, 14 (1), 20170695.

Mowles, S.L., Jennions, M., and Backwell, P.R.Y. 2017. Multimodal communication in courting fiddler crabs reveals male performance capacities. Royal Society Open Science, 4 (3), 161093.

Durrant, K.L., Skicko, I.M., Sturrock, C., and Mowles, S.L. 2016. Comparative morphological trade-offs between pre-and post-copulatory sexual selection in Giant hissing cockroaches (Tribe: Gromphadorhini). Scientific Reports, 6 (1), 1-7.

Mowles, S.L. and Jepson, N.M. 2015. Physiological costs of repetitive courtship displays in cockroaches handicap locomotor performance. PLoS ONE, 10 (11), e0143664

Mowles, S.L., 2014. The physiological cost of courtship: field cricket song results in anaerobic metabolism. Animal Behaviour, 89, pp.39-43.

Briffa, M., Hardy, I.C.W. and Mowles, S.L., 2013. Prospects for animal contests. In: Hardy, I.C.W. and Briffa, M., eds. Animal Contests. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Fawcett, T.W. and Mowles, S.L., 2013. Assessments of fighting ability need not be cognitively complex. Animal Behaviour, 86 (5), pp.e1-e7.

Mowles, S.L., King, B.H., Linforth, R.S.T. and Hardy, I.C.W., 2013. A female-emitted pheromone component is associated with reduced male courtship in the parasitoid wasp Spalangia endius. PLoS ONE, 8 (11), e82010.

Mowles, S. L. and Briffa, M., 2012. Forewarned is forearmed: Pre-fight signals of stamina predict opponent fatigue in hermit crab shell fights. Behavioral Ecology, 23, pp.1324-1329.

Mowles, S. L. and Ord, T.J., 2012. Repetitive signals and mate choice: insights from contest theory. Animal Behaviour, 84, pp.295-304.

Mowles, S.L., Cotton, P.A. and Briffa, M., 2012. Consistent crustaceans: the identification of stable behavioural syndromes in hermit crabs. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 66, pp.1087-1094.

Mowles, S.L., Rundle, S.D. and Cotton, P.A., 2011. Susceptibility to predation affects trait-mediated interactions by altering competitive success. PLoS ONE, 6(8), e23068.

Mowles, S.L., Cotton, P.A. and Briffa, M., 2011. Flexing the abdominals: Do bigger muscles make better fighters? Biology Letters, 7, pp.358-360.

Recent presentations and conferences

Invited seminars

September 2018: National University of Singapore, Singapore.

May 2017: School of Environmental Sciences, University of Hull.

March 2017: Department of Psychology, The University of Exeter, UK.

October 2016: Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

February 2015. Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Australia

April 2014. School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

March 2013. Centre for Ecology & Conservation, University of Exeter, Falmouth Campus, UK

March 2013. Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.

February 2013. Department of Psychology, The University of Exeter, UK

January 2013. Department of Biology, The University of Lund, Sweden

November 2011. School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Selected recent conference presentations

Mowles, S.L., Jennions, M., and Backwell, P.R.Y. 2017. Robo-Crabs’ reveal that female fiddler crabs are sensitive to changes in male display rate. Behavior 2017, Estoril, Portugal.

Mowles, S.L., Jennions, M., and Backwell, P.R.Y. 2016. Multimodal communication in courting fiddler crabs reveals male performance capacities. ISBE: 16th International Behavioural Ecology Congress, Exeter, UK.

Mowles, S.L., Skicko, I., and Durrant, K.L. 2015. Perfect allometry: Using X-ray computed tomography to investigate the form and function of multimodal agonistic signals. Behavior 2015. 34th International Ethological Conference. Cairns, Australia.

Mowles, S.L. 2013. What females want: physiology, performance and the costs of courtship. Behaviour 2013, Newcastle, UK.

Mowles, S.L., 2013. The costs of courtship: Using physiology and performance to understand what females want. ASAB Winter Meeting, ZSL, London, UK.

Mowles, S.L., Linforth, R.S.T. and Hardy, I.C.W., 2012. Chemical warfare in the battle of the sexes: the use of an ‘anti-aphrodisiac’ to deter unwanted males in parasitoid wasps. ISBE: 14th International Behavioural Ecology Congress, Lund, Sweden.

Mowles, S.L., 2012. The limits of performance. What can racing crabs tell us about animal contests? ISRA: 20th International Society for Research on Aggression World Meeting. Luxembourg.

Mowles, S.L., Cotton, P.A. and Briffa, M., 2011. Consistent behavioural syndromes reveal complex animal personalities in hermit crabs. Behavior: Joint meeting of the Animal Behaviour Society and the International Ethological Conference, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.