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Seeing the light

Seeing the light

How artificial lighting in poultry sheds affects the welfare and behaviour of domestic chickens will be studied by Waikato graduate Ashleigh Bright, who’s won a prestigious “Bright Futures” Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship that will enable her to begin completing her PhD at Oxford University next year.

She says her research at Oxford could lead to better understanding of how use of ultra-violet (UV) lighting may reduce stress for battery hens. Artificial light used in cage-captive situations is normally UV deficient. However, UV wavelengths are used by chickens when foraging and for social recognition.

Her award includes a stipend of $25,000 a year, conference fees of up to $3000 a year and annual course fees. Ashleigh, currently working on animal welfare projects at HortResearch in Hamilton, recently completed her MSc at Waikato on sexual selection in blackbirds. The intensity of bill colour signals their status to other males and their attractiveness to females.

“The orange pigment in the blackbird bill is derived from carotenoid pigments in what the bird eats. Birds with more orange bills may be better at foraging for carotenoid-rich foods or better at competing with other males for the food,” says Ashleigh.

Ashleigh’s win is the latest in a series of awards won by students from the animal behaviour, ecology and conservation research group in Waikato’s department of biological sciences. She is the second student to go on to Oxford in the past five years.

Most recent awards include: Graduate student Shinichi Nakagawa winning a Top Achiever Scholarship earlier this year and using it to complete his PhD at the University of Sheffield.

Nicky Hogan winning a University of New England Research Scholarship to complete her PhD. Research group associate professor Joe Waas says it’s been unusual to have this many students in a group winning scholarships in so short a time.

“I put it down to us having been a small, mutually supportive team that’s been well-resourced by the University in terms of equipment and facilities.”

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