Dr Laura Ryan

Email me at laura.ryan@mq.edu.au

Research Themes: Neuroscience, ecology and conservation

I am interested in how animals perceive their world and use knowledge of animal sensory systems to better understand their behaviour, often with a view to mitigating negative interactions with humans.  

My research utilises a variety of techniques including electrophysiology, animal behaviour, computer modelling, anatomy and molecular biology to reach these goals.

I work on a broad range of animals including sharks, bony fishes, birds and lizards.

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Current Projects

Design of novel deterrents to prevent shark bites

By studying shark sensory systems in detail we are helping to develop novel shark deterrent technologies that may reduce shark attacks on humans. For example, we are using new information about shark vision to design counter-illumination for surfboards.  We are also investigating the effects of electric fields on shark physiology and behaviour to deliver innovative improvements in electronic shark deterrent technology. This work aims to protect both humans and threatened shark species by reducing our reliance on culling programs to keep people safe in the water.

Effects of heavy metal pollution on cognition and sensory function

Environmental lead contamination is widespread throughout Australia. Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can cause permanent and debilitating effects on the cognitive function in humans, especially children, and may also affect wild animals living in contaminated areas. We are studying the impacts of lead pollution on wild birds to gain a better understanding of how lead impacts brain development and function, free from the factors that confound human studies. Understanding the impacts of lead contamination in wild birds also has important conservation implications, as high levels of lead have been detected in a number of native species. This research aims to use behavioural responses of wild birds as a tool in the early identification of contaminated environments

Reducing sensory stressors and enhancing sensory stimulation in artificial environments

I am interested in improving the design of artificial environments, such as captive animal housing and ‘eco-engineered’ urban structures, through consideration of an animals sensory perception. For example, artificial lighting is known to impact breeding and welfare in a range of animals. Knowledge of the visual system of a species allows for better design of lighting. Moreover, many artificial environments lack the sensory stimulation of a natural environment and our research hopes to bridge this gap by investigating the importance of sensory enrichment on cognition. Such fundamental data will have significant implications for animal welfare, captive breeding efforts, and conservation.


  • Ryan, L. A., Cunningham, R., Hart, N. S., & Ogawa, Y. (2020). The buzz around spatial resolving power and contrast sensitivity in the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Vision Research169, 25-32. Impact factor 2.178, Journal Quartile Q1
  • Ryan, L.A., Lynch, S.K., Harcourt, R., Slip, D.J., Peddemors, V., Everett, J.D., Harrison, L.M. and Hart, N.S., (2019). Environmental predictive models for shark attacks in Australian waters. Marine Ecology Progress Series631, pp.165-179. Impact factor 2.326, citations 1, Journal Quartile Q1.
  • Palavalli-Nettimi, R., Ogawa, Y., Ryan, L. A., Hart, N. S., & Narendra, A. (2019). Miniaturisation reduces contrast sensitivity and spatial resolving power in ants. Journal of Experimental Biology222(12), jeb203018. Impact factor 3.017, citations 3, Journal Quartile Q1,
  • Chapuis, L., Collin, S.P., Yopak, K.E., McCauley, R.D., Kempster, R.M., Ryan, L.A., Schmidt, C., Kerr, C.C., Gennari, E., Egeberg, C.A. and Hart, N.S.,(2019). The effect of underwater sounds on shark behaviour. Scientific Reports, 9(1), p.6924. Impact factor 4.011, citations 3, Journal Quartile Q1
  • Ogawa, Y., Ryan, L., Palavalli-Nettimi, R., Seeger, O., Hart, N. and Narendra, A., (2019). Spatial resolving power and contrast sensitivity are adapted for ambient light conditions in Australian Myrmecia ants. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7, p.18. Impact factor 2.686, citations 2, Journal Quartile Q2,
  • Egeberg, C.A., Kempster, R.M., Hart, N.S., Ryan, L., Chapuis, L., Kerr, C.C., Schmidt, C., Gennari, E., Yopak, K.E. and Collin, S.P., (2019). Not all electric shark deterrents are made equal: Effects of a commercial electric anklet deterrent on white shark behaviour. PLoS one, 14(3), p.e0212851. Impact factor 2.776, citations 2, Journal Quartile Q2,
  • Ryan, L.A., Chapuis, L., Hemmi, J.M., Collin, S.P., McCauley, R.D., Yopak, K.E., Gennari, E., Huveneers, C., Kempster, R.M., Kerr, C.C. and Schmidt, C., Hart, N.(2018). Effects of auditory and visual stimuli on shark feeding behaviour: the disco effect. Marine biology, 165(1), p.11. Impact factor 2.134, citations 10, Journal Quartile Q2,
  • Ryan, L., Hemmi, J., Collin, S. and Hart, N. (2017). Electrophysiological measures of temporal resolution, contrast sensitivity and spatial resolving power in sharks. Journal of Comparative Physiology A. 203, 197-210. Impact factor 1.882, citations 11, Journal Quartile Q1,
  • Ryan, L. A., Hart, N. S., Collin, S. P. and Hemmi, J. M. (2016). Visual resolution and contrast sensitivity in two benthic sharks. Journal of Experimental Biology. 219, 3971-3980. Impact factor 3.320, citations 11, Journal Quartile Q1,
  • Kempster, R. M., Egeberg, C. A., Hart, N. S., Ryan, L., Chapuis, L., Kerr, C. C., Schmidt, C., Huveneers, C., Gennari, E. and Yopak, K. E. (2016). How Close is too Close? The Effect of a Non-Lethal Electric Shark Deterrent on White Shark Behaviour. PLoS One 11, e0157717. Impact factor 2.806, citations 21, Journal Quartile Q1,
  • Ryan, L. A., Meeuwig, J. J., Hemmi, J. M., Collin, S. P. and Hart, N. S. (2015). It is not just size that matters: shark cruising speeds are species-specific. Marine Biology 162, 1307-1318. Impact factor 2.375, citations 22, Journal Quartile Q1,
  • McKinley, A. C., Ryan, L., Coleman, M. A., Knott, N. A., Clark, G., Taylor, M. D. and Johnston, E. L. (2011). Putting marine sanctuaries into context: a comparison of estuary fish assemblages over multiple levels of protection and modification. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 21, 636-648. Impact factor 1.929, citations 22, Journal Quartile Q2.