Dr Swidbert Ott

Lecturer (formerly Reader) in Animal Biology

School/Department: Biological Sciences, School of



After completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Graz Austria with a MSc in Biology/Zoology I moved to the University of Cambridge for my PhD (2000). I held post-doctoral positions at Queen Mary Univ. London and at the University of Sussex elucidating the functional neuroanatomy of nitric oxide signalling in invertebrates. I then secured a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF; 2005-14) to research the proximate mechanisms of swarming behaviour in locusts. This took me first back to Cambridge and then in 2013 to the University of Leicester where I was appointed Lecturer in Animal Biology (2014) and promoted to Reader / Associate Professor in 2015. This post became redundant when the University's 'Shaping for Excellence' disinvested from research in animal neurobiology and behaviour and I was redeployed as a teaching-focussed Lecturer in 2021.


I am an animal biologist interested in the organismal biology neurobiology and behaviour of invertebrates particularly insects.

A focus of my research has been to better understand the mechanisms that permit animals to adapt their brains bodies and behaviour to changing environmental conditions. As the principal model I have used the Desert Locust swarms of which periodically devastate agriculture across Africa and Asia. This research programme was funded by the Royal Society the BBSRC and the Leverhulme Trust and has uncovered mechanisms that underpin the transition between the solitary form or 'phase' and the swarming 'gregarious' phase; it has also identified surprising and previously unknown adaptive differences between the two. Active research in animal neuroscience and behaviour discontinued with the University's 'Shaping for Excellence' in 2021.

Research in other aspects of organismal biology includes the physiological plasticity of insects in response to allelochemicals and xenobiotics (collaboration with J. Niven U. Sussex) and the link between structural brain plasticity foraging success and working memory (collaboration with E Leadbeater Royal Holloway).


(0) M Rossi, SR Ott, JE Niven. 2020. Malpighamoeba infection compromises fluid secretion and P-glycoprotein detoxification in Malpighian tubules. Sci. Rep. 10:15953.

EB Mallon, HE Amarasinghe, SR Ott. 2016. Acute and chronic gregarisation are associated with distinct DNA methylation fingerprints in desert locusts. Sci. Rep. 6:35608.

SH Montgomery, RM Merrill, SR Ott. 2016. Brain composition in Heliconius butterflies, posteclosion growth and experience-dependent neuropil plasticity. J. Comp. Neurol. 524:1747-1769.

SH Montgomery, SR Ott. 2015. Brain composition in Godyris zavaleta, a diurnal butterfly, Reflects an increased reliance on olfactory information. J. Comp. Neurol. 523:869-891.

SM Rogers, SR Ott. 2015. Differential activation of serotonergic neurons during short-and long-term gregarization of desert locusts. Proc. Biol. Sci. 282:20142062.

P Simoes, JE Niven, SR Ott. 2013. Phenotypic transformation affects associative learning in the Desert Locust. Curr. Biol. 23:2407-2412.

SR Ott, H Verlinden et al. 2012. Critical role for protein kinase A in the acquisition of gregarious behavior in the desert locust. PNAS 109:E381-E387.

SR Ott, SM Rogers. 2010. Gregarious desert locusts have substantially larger brains with altered proportions compared with the solitarious phase. Proc. Biol. Sci. 277:3087-3096.

ML Anstey, SM Rogers, SR Ott, M Burrows, SJ Simpson. 2009. Serotonin mediates behavioral gregarization underlying swarm formation in desert locusts. Science 323:627-630.

SR Ott. 2008. Confocal microscopy in large insect brains: zinc-formaldehyde fixation improves synapsin immunostaining and preservation of morphology in whole-mounts. J. Neurosci. Methods 172:220-230.

SR Ott, A Delago, MR Elphick. 2004. An evolutionarily conserved mechanism for sensitization of soluble guanylyl cyclase reveals extensive nitric oxide-mediated upregulation of cyclic GMP in insect brain. Eur Journal Neurosci 20:1231-1244.

SR Ott, M Burrows. 1998. Nitric oxide synthase in the thoracic ganglia of the locust: distribution in the neuropiles and morphology of neurones. J. Comp. Neurol. 395:217-230.;2-5.


I am presently not able to provide supervision to new PhD students.


I teach animal biology neurobiology behaviour and evolution across the School of Biological Sciences in the following modules:

ADBS001 - Year 1 Tutorials BS1070 - Biodiversity and Behaviour: An Introduction to Zoology

BS2004 - Contemporary Techniques in Biological Data Analysis (co-convenor)

BS2066 - Behavioural Neurobiology (co-convenor)

BS2077 - Neurobiology and Animal Behaviour (lead convenor)

BS2078 - A Field Guide to Evolution (field course)

BS3064 - Comparative Neurobiology (co-convenor)

BS3080 - Behavioural Ecology (field course)

BS4601/PS7601 - Advanced Research Methods

Press and media

Locust behaviour and swarm formation; Phenotypic Plasticity.


Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (2017)
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