Dr Beth Mortimer

Research Interests

My interdisciplinary research investigates how animals are able to use vibrations through materials and along surfaces for information. Studying this form of information transfer requires an understanding of the generation, propagation and detection of vibrations. Please see recent review published in Animal Behaviour for more information. I draw on my biological materials research background, and have projects spanning biomechanics, animal behaviour, sensory ecology and the development of new monitoring technologies.

Current projects include investigating how spider webs influence vibration propagation, and how spiders can use this information to determine the location of vibration sources. I also investigate elephants in the field in Kenya and am a National Geographic Explorer. I look at the role that the terrain plays in the propagation distance of elephant generated vibrations and how seismic vibrations can be used to determine elephant behaviour. Furthermore, I investigate vibration sensing in the model species of nematode worm, C. elegans and vibration generation mechanisms in hemipteran bugs. I use a range of experimental approaches, including laser vibrometery, geophone arrays, vibration playback, time-resolved synchtrotron X-ray microtomography, and high-speed photography to investigate how animals use vibrations as an information source.


For recent public outreach related to my work, please see the links below.

December 2018. Invited speaker for TEDWomen 2018 conference, Palm Springs, CA, USA. Talk available here.

July 2018. Front cover and piece for Biosphere magazine, Issue 33.

May 2018. Work on elephant seismic vibrations featured in Daily Mail, Pacific Standard, USA Today, New York Times (including The Week in Good News), The Times, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4's Inside Science, CBC's Quirks and Quarks, Science Friday, Mongabay.com

May 2018. Oxford University Museum of Natural History Late night: Illuminating movement.

April 2018. The naked scientists: science podcasts and science radio shows. Senses Month: Tackling touch

Selected Publications

Davranoglou, L.-R., Mortimer, B., Taylor, G. K., Malenovsky, I. On the morphology and possible function of two putative vibroacoustic mechanisms in derbid planthoppers (Hemiptera: Fulgoromorpha: Derbidae). Arthropod Structure & Development, 2019, 52, 100880.

Mortimer, B. A spider's vibration landscape: Adaptions to promote vibrational information transfer in orb webs. Int. Comp. Biol., 2019, icz043, https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icz043.

Mortimer, B., Soler, A., Wilkins, L., Vollrath, F. Decoding the locational information in the orb web vibrations of Araneus diadematus and Zygiella x-notata. J. R. Soc. Interface, 2019, 16, 20190201.

Davranoglou, L.-R., Cicirello, A., Taylor, G. K., Mortimer, B. Planthopper bugs use a fast, cyclic elastic recoil mechanism for effective vibrational communication at small body size. PLoS Biology, 2019, 17(3), e3000155. 

Mortimer, B., Rees, W. L., Koelemeijer, P., Nissen-Meyer, T. Classifying elephant behaviour through seismic vibrations. Current Biology, 2018, 28(9), R547-548.

Mortimer, B., Soler, A., Siviour, C. R., Vollrath, F. Remote monitoring of vibrational information in spider webs. The Science of Nature, 2018, 105, 37.

Holbrook, R. I., Mortimer, B. Vibration sensitivity found in Caenorhabditis elegans. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2018, 221, jeb178947.

Mortimer, B. Biotremology: Do physical constraints limit the propagation of vibrational information? Animal Behaviour, 2017, 130, pp. 165-174.

Davranoglou L.-R., Banar, P., Mortimer, B., Taylor, G. K. The pregenital abdomen of Enicocephalomorpha and morphological evidence for different modes of communication at the dawn of Heteropteran evolution. Arthropod Structure & Development, 2017, 46, pp. 843-868.

Mortimer, B., Soler, A., Siviour, C. R., Zaera, R., Vollrath F. Tuning the instrument: sonic properties in the spider’s web. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2016, 13, 20160341.

Mortimer, B., Holland, C., Windmill, J. F. C., Vollrath, F. Unpicking the signal thread of the sector web spider Zygiella x-notata. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2015, 12, 20150633

Mortimer, B., Gordon, S., Siviour, C. R., Holland, C., Vollrath, F., Windmill, J. F. C. The speed of sound in silk: linking material performance to biological function. Advanced Materials, 2014, 26, pp. 5179-5183.

List of site pages