Dr Sarah Lane

Dr Sarah Lane

Post-doctoral Research Fellow

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


I am a post-doctoral research fellow working with Dr Mark Briffa, Dr Manuela Truebano Garcia and Dr Alistair Wilson (University of Exeter) investigating the influence of indirect genetic effects on contest behaviour in the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina. The overarching aim of our project is to understand how an individual's behaviour during a contest (i.e. aggression) is affected by the interaction between its own genotype and that of its opponent.


2015- Present Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Plymouth University
2012-2015 PhD "The role of cuticular hydrocarbons in determining male reproductive success", University of Exeter, Penryn Campus
2011-2012 MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology (with Distinction), University of Exeter, Penryn Campus
2008-2011 BSc Zoology (Hons) 1st class, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus

2018-Present: Post-doc representative for School of Biological and Marine Science’s Athena SWAN panel.
2017-2018: Member of the organising committee for Easter 2018 conference of Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB).
2016-2018 Early Career Researcher representative on Plymouth University's central Athena SWAN SAT (Self- assessment) team
2016-2017 Co-ordinator of fortnightly Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre (MBERC) departmental seminars


2013 Biosciences School Commendation for Outstanding Research Project (MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology 2011/12)

Professional membership

Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB)
British Ecological Society (BES)

Roles on external bodies

Member of the British Ecological Society (BES) Review College

Research interests

I’m fascinated by the many different forms of conflict which result from sexual and natural selection. I spent my PhD investigating sexual conflict and sperm competition in the broad-horned flour beetle Gnatocerus cornutus. During this time I watched a lot of interactions both male-male and male-female, in which males would often court other males while aggressively wrestling with females. These observations of unexpected and seemingly maladaptive behaviour sparked my interest in social interactions, in particular agonistic encounters.

My current research focuses on the fighting behaviour of the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina. These anemones are extraordinary, they are in many ways extremely simple in form, lacking a central nervous system and specialised organs for processes such as excretion, yet they possess weapons. Beadlets are named for the ring of blue bead-like structures called acrorhagi that border their body columns. These acrorhagi are crammed full of stinging nematocysts, which are deployed during fights with conspecifics, leaving the opponent covered in necrotising scars.

Using these fascinating creatures I aim to discover more about contest behaviour and how individuals make decisions during fights. Something I am extremely interested in is the fact that in order to inflict damage onto an opponent, an anemone has to rip off pieces of its own acrorhagi and thus these anemones are unable to inflict damage onto each other without also hurting themselves. This concept which I have coined ‘self-inflicted damage’ (see Lane and Briffa 2017 ‘The price of attack: Rethinking damage costs in animal contests’) is not restricted to sea anemones, examples can be found in taxa from humans to beetles, but has never before been studied. I want to explore the costs of this self-inflicted damage and the effect these costs have on the decisions an individual makes during a fight.

Outside of sea anemones, I am eager to learn more about the use of weapons during conflicts. What differentiates weapons from other kinds of traits? How do individuals cope with the costs of using weapons (specifically self-inflicted damage)? How do the costs and benefits of offensive and defensive weapons differ from one another?

Creative practice & artistic projects

Outreach and media

May 2018: 'Fighting like an animal doesn't always mean a duel to the death' - Science News magazine

July 2017: A short monologue pitching sea anemones as the 'critter of the week' for The Naked Scientists' marine month, you can listen to it here: - Critter of the Week: Sea Anemones


Lane, S. M. & Briffa, M. In Press How does the environment affect fighting? The interaction between extrinsic fighting ability and resource value during contests. Journal of Experimental Biology.

Lane, S. M. 2018 What is a weapon? Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Briffa, M. & Lane, S. M. In Press Signals in conflict resolution: Conventional signals, aggression and territoriality. In Breed, M. D. & Moore, J (Eds) Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (2nd ed.) Elsevier.

Lane, S. M., & Briffa, M. 2018 Immune function and the decision to deploy weapons during fights in the beadlet anemone Actinia equina. Journal of Experimental Biology. 221: jeb169201

Briffa, M., & Lane, S. M. 2017 The role of skill in animal contests: A neglected component of fighting ability. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 284: 20171596.

Lane, S. M., & Briffa, M. 2017 Boldness is for rookies: Pre-fight boldness and fighting success in a sea anemone. Animal Behaviour. 132: 13-20.

Lane, S. M., & Briffa, M. 2017 The price of attack: Rethinking damage costs in animal contests. Animal Behaviour. 126: 23-29.

Lane, S. M., Dickinson, A. W., Tregenza, T., House, C. M. 2016 Sexual selection on male cuticular hydrocarbons via male-male competition and female choice. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 29: 1346-1355.

Lane, S. M., Haughan, A. E., Evans, D., Tregenza, T., House, C. M. 2016 Same-sex sexual behaviour as a dominance display. Animal Behaviour. 114: 113-118.

Rapkin, J., Jensen, K., Lane, S. M., House, C. M., Sakaluk, S. K., Hunt, J. 2015 Macronutrient intake regulates sexual conflict in decorated crickets. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 29(2): 395-406.

House, C. M., Jensen, K., Rapkin, J., Lane, S. M., Okada, K., Hosken, D. J., Hunt, J. 2015 Macronutrient balance mediates the growth of sexually selected weapons but not genitalia in male broad horned flour beetles. Functional Ecology. 30(5):769-779.

Lane, S. M., Solino, J. H., Mitchell, C., Blount, J. D., Okada, K., Hunt, J., House C. M. 2015 Rival male chemical cues evoke changes in male pre- and post-copulatory investment in a flour beetle. Behavioural Ecology. 26(4):1021-1029.

Ingleby, F. C., Hosken, D. J., Flowers, K., Hawkes, M. F., Lane, S. M., Rapkin, J., House, C. M., Sharma, M. D., Hunt, J. 2014 Environmental heterogeneity, multivariate sexual selection, and genetic constraints on cuticular hydrocarbons in Drosophila simulans. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 27(4): 700-713.

Ingleby, F. C., Hosken, D. J., Flowers, K., Hawkes, M. F., Lane, S. M., Rapkin, J., Dworkin, I., Hunt, J. 2013 Genotype by environment interactions for cuticular hydrocarbon expression in Drosophila simulans. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 26: 94-107.


August 2017 Behaviour 2017, Estoril, Portugal. Oral presentation: 'Immune function as a cause and consequence of weapon use'

June 2017 Contests: Theory and Evidence, Norwich, UK. Oral presentation: 'The price of attack: Rethinking damage costs in animal contests'

August 2016 16th Congress of the International Society for Behavioural Ecology, Exeter, UK. Oral presentation: 'Can post-fight changes in boldness explain subsequent fighting success?'

June 2015 52nd Annual conference of the Animal Behaviour Society, Anchorage, Alaska, USA. Oral presentation: 'Male flour beetles alter both pre and post-copulatory investment in response to rival Male chemical cues'

May 2014 10th Ecology and Behaviour meeting, Montpellier, France. Oral presentation: 'Perception of sperm competition risk is altered by the presence of male-derivedcuticular hydrocarbons in the broad-horned flour beetle Gnatocerus cornutus'


Acta Ethologica
Animal Behaviour
Behavioural Processes
Biological Invasions
Journal of Herpetology
Marine and Freshwater Research
Physiological Entomology

Reports & invited lectures


March 2018 Queen’s University Belfast. Talk title: ‘Costsand determinants of weapon use in animal contests’

March 2018 Plymouth University. Talk title: ‘Costs anddeterminants of weapon use in animal contests’

February 2017 University of Exeter. Talk title: ‘From BScZoology to researching anemones’


May 2018 

Guest lecturer on third year Behavioural Ecology module, Plymouth University, UK.

March 2017 Guest lecturer on third year Behavioural Ecology module, Plymouth University, UK.


Personal webpage: https://sarahlanebehaviour.wordpress.com/

ResearchGate profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sarah_Lane3