Dr. Caves earned her B.A. in Biology from Pomona College, Claremont, CA, followed by an M.Phil in Zoology from the University of Cambridge, and her Ph.D. in Biology from Duke University, where she began studying the visual ecology of cleaning mutualisms, with a focus on the visual capabilities of both cleaner shrimp and client fish, and the implications of those visual capabilities for signaling to mediate these intriguing interspecies interactions. As a post-doctoral researcher at Duke University, she began to study perceptual processing, and in particular perceptual mechanisms by which continuous variation in a signal is perceived discontinuously, with a focus on categorical perception of color in zebra finches. She then was awarded a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellowship at the University of Exeter, where she integrated her work on visual acuity (the ability to perceive detail) with her work on perceptual processing, examining proportional processing of length-based signals in swordtail fish. Dr. Caves started her appointment in the Ecology, Evolution, & Marine Biology Department in 2021.
In the early 1900’s, Jakob von Uexküll used the term “umwelt” to describe the perceptual world in which an organism exists and acts. Since then, advances have been made in both sensory physiology (the physiological basis of sensory systems) and receiver psychology (the behaviors that result from sensory input). One challenge we face, however, is that sensory physiology does not directly predict an animal’s umwelt, so we are left with an incomplete understanding of how physiology influences the umwelt, the role of the umwelt in behavior, and whether constraints result in similar umwelten across species. In the Caves lab, we investigate visual perception in animals by studying links between signaling behavior and signal form, sensory physiology, perceptual processing, and behavioral outcomes across species. Our broader aim is to better our understanding of how signals and perceptual systems evolve, and in particular how and when differences in sensory capability lead to differences in perception that influence resultant behaviors. Thus, we take an interdisciplinary approach by conducting research projects that focus on different stages of sensory and perceptual processing that occur between when a sender emits a signal and when a receiver responds, including signaling behavior, signal filtering by the environment and the visual system, perceptual processing, and behavioral outcomes.