The University of Western Australia

UWA Staff Profile

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Jan Hemmi

Dr Jan Hemmi

Future Fellow
Animal Biology, School of

Contact details
School of Animal Biology
The University of Western Australia (M092)
35 Stirling Highway
+61 8 6488 3117
+61 8 6488 7527

Future Fellow
Neuroecology Group

Contact details
Neuroecology Group
The University of Western Australia (M092)
35 Stirling Highway
+61 8 6488 3117
+61 8 6488 7527
I was born and brought up in Switzerland where I studied biology at the University of Zürich with a focus on Ethology (animal behaviour). At that time I was particularly interested in cognitive and social processes in primates and horses. In 1994 I came to Australia to do my PhD in the Developmental Neurobiology group at the ANU. My project explored the relationship between the structure and function of the tammar wallaby's visual system. The unusual photoreceptor topography I observed in these animals sparked my interest in visual ecology. After the completion of my PhD I joined the Visual Sciences group (ANU) where I began work on the ecology of visual information processing in fiddler crabs. I joined UWA in 2012 to work on the visual control of behaviour in fiddler crabs. The relationship between sensory processing and animal behaviour is the main focus of my research group. Much of our work is highly comparative and involves a range of different animals. We work on ants and crabs to crocodiles, lizards, fish, sharks and dunnarts.
Key research
Neural control of behaviour
How animals see their world
Visual ecology
Visual function
Vision in predation
Amarasinghe R, Poldy J, Matsuba Y, Barrow R, Hemmi JM, Pichersky E, Peakall R (2015) UV-B light contributes directly to the synthesis of chiloglottone floral volatiles Annals of Botany 115, 693-703
Hemmi JM, Tomsic D (2015) Differences in the escape response of a grapsid crab in the field and in the laboratory. Journal of Experimental Biology 218, 3499-3507
How MJ, Christy JH, Temple SE, Hemmi JM, Marshall NJ, Roberts NW (2015) Target Detection Is Enhanced by Polarization Vision in a Fiddler Crab. Current Biology doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.10.047
Ogawa Y, Falkowski M, Narendra A, Zeil J, Hemmi JM (2015) Three spectrally distinct photoreceptors in diurnal and nocturnal Australian ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 282, 20150673
Ryan LA, Meeuwig JJ, Hemmi JM, Collin SP, Hart NS (2015) It is not just size that matters: shark cruising speeds are species-specific. Marine Biology 162, 1307-1318
Vlahos LM, Knott B, Valter K & Hemmi JM (2014) Photoreceptor topography and spectral sensitivity in the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) Journal of Comparative Neurology DOI: 10.1002/cne.23610
Zeil J, Hemmi JM (2014) Path Integration, Vision and Decision-making in Fiddler Crabs. In Derby C & Thiel M (eds) Crustacean Nervous Systems and their Control of Behavior, Oxford University Press, in press
Ebeling W, Hemmi JM (2014) Dichromatic Colour Vision in Wallabies as Characterised by Three Behavioural Paradigms. PLoS ONE 9: e86531. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086531
Cummins N, Bartlett CA, Archer M, Bartlett E, Hemmi JM, Harvey AR, Dunlop SA, Fitzgerald M (2013) Changes to mitochondrial ultrastructure in optic nerve vulnerable to secondary degeneration in vivo are limited by irradiation at 670 nm., BMC Neuroscience 14 98- DOI:10.1186/1471-2202-14-98
Smolka J, Raderschall CA, Hemmi JM (2013) Flicker is part of a multi-cue response criterion in fiddler crab predator avoidance. Journal of Experimental Biology 216 1219-1224
How MJ, Pignatelli V, Temple SE, Marshall J, Hemmi JM (2012) High e-vector acuity in the polarisation vision system of the fiddler crab Uca vomeris, Journal of Experimental Biology 215 2128-2133
Hemmi JM, Tomsic D (2012) The neuroethology of escape in crabs: from sensory ecology to neurons and back. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 22 194-200
New STD, Hemmi JM, Kerr, GD, Bull CM (2012) Ocular anatomy and retinal photoreceptors in a skink, the sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa). Anatomical Record 295 1727-1735
Narendra A, Reid SF, Greiner B, Peters RA, Hemmi JM, Ribi WA, Zeil, J (2011) Caste-specific visual adaptations to distinct daily activity schedules in Australian Myrmecia ants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 278 1141-1149
Raderschall CA, Magrath RD, Hemmi, JM (2011) Habituation under natural conditions: model predators are distinguished by approach direction. Journal of Experimental Biology 214 4209-4216
Reid SF, Narendra A, Hemmi JM & Zeil J. (2011) Polarised skylight and the landmark panorama provide night active bull ants with compass information during route following. Journal of Experimental Biology 214 363-370
Smolka J, Zeil J, Hemmi JM (2011) Natural visual cues eliciting predator avoidance in fiddler crabs. Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2746
Roles, responsibilities and expertise
- Honours coordinator School of Animal Biology
- Co-coordinator first year biology
- Editorial advisory boad Journal of Experimental Biology
- Academic editor PLOS ONE
- Review editor Frontiers in Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology

Research Techniques
- Analysis of animal behaviour: Field and laboratory work (macaques, wallabies, possums, dunnarts, flies, bees, lizards, ants, crabs)
- Spectrographic imaging and measurements
- Quantitative video film analysis, Multiple camera calibration / alignment
- Immunocytochemistry (retinal wholemounts, tammar wallaby)
- Microspectrophotometry (MSP) (tammar wallaby, spotted quoll)
- Electrophysiology: Electroretinogram recordings (ERG), Visual Evoked Potentials (VEP) and Patch clamp recordings (tammar wallaby), Intracellular recordings (crabs)
- Extensive experience in multivariate statistical analysis and experimental design including: Multiple regression, Generalised linear regression, Generalised Linear Mixed Models, Residual Maximum Likelihood Analysis, Permutation analysis

Major software design
- Digi: A sophisticated C/Matlab based analogue/digital video analysis system. The x-y-position analysis of video sequences includes automated frame by frame tracking of individual objects and their orientation. Includes detailed labelling of behaviours and extensive search capabilities.
- Digilite: A free, simplified, fully Matlab based version of DIGI developed together with Robert Parker.
- C-program (Linux) for the control of an operant conditioning apparatus for visual discrimination experiments.
Funding received
2016-2018 “RoboCrab: An integrative approach to understanding natural escape decisions” Hemmi, Partridge, Webb – ARC DP160102658 $437,500
2014-2016 “Transcriptome sequencing and functional characterisation of craniate non-visual sensory systems and their adaptation to diverse light environments” Davies, Hunt, Carter, Hemmi & Partridge– ARC DP140102117 $380,000
2013 “A case of mistaken identity? Why do sharks attack humans?” Hart, Hemmi & Ryan– SWRRFI research grant $11,000
2011-2014 “Neuro-ecology: information processing under natural conditions” FT110100528 Hemmi – ARC Future Fellowship $711,993
2010-2013 “Insect Hovering Flight” Zeil, Hemmi – Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) $219,000
2010 Three month visiting fellowship grant for Dr J. Douglass – ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science $8,000
2009 Two month visiting fellowship grant for Mr. Olle Lind – Centre for Visual Sciences $4,500
2008 Two month visiting post-doc Fellowship grant for Dr. Richard Peters – Centre for Visual Sciences $8,000
2007 Three month visiting fellowship grant Dr. Tobias Merkle – Centre for Visual Sciences $8,000
2007 Three high intensity tuneable light sources and accessories – ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science $85,000
2005-2007 “To flee or not to flee: surviving on incomplete information” DP0558038 Hemmi, Zimmer, Zeil, ARC Discovery Project $265,000
2005 Synchronized, medium Hi-Speed Firewire 3-Camera system- Centre for Visual Sciences $16,000
2003 Ocean Optics spectrograph Hemmi, Zeil - IAS-PPF Fund for Biotechnology $8,000
International Society of Neuroethology
Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour
Honours and awards
2011 ARC Future Fellowship
2009 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Innovation & Excellence in Service Quality
2008 Fellowship ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, 3 years
2002 Fellowship Centre for Visual Sciences, ANU, 12 months
2000 Fellowship Swiss National Science Foundation, 2.5 years
1999 Fellowship Swiss National Science Foundation, 1 year
1999 Fellowship Janggen Pöhn Stiftung (1 year, not taken up)
1998 Fellowship Centre for Visual Sciences, ANU, 9 months
1994 Overseas Postgraduate Research Scholarship, DEET, Australia
1994 Australian National University PhD Scholarship, ANU, Australia
Previous positions
2008 – 2011
Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, The Australian National University, Group leader Visual Neuroethology, Research School of Biology.

2003 - 2007
Research Fellow, Research School of Biological Sciences, Visual Sciences, The Australian National University. From 2007, Group leader Visual Neuroethology, Research School of Biology.

2002 - 2003
Postdoctoral Fellowship, Centre for Visual Sciences, The Australian National University.

2000 - 2002
Fellowship for advanced researchers, Swiss National Science Foundation, Visual Sciences, Research School of Biological Sciences, The Australian National University.

1999 - 2000
Fellowship for prospective researchers, Swiss National Science Foundation, Visual Sciences, Research School of Biological Sciences, The Australian National University.

1998 - 1999
Postdoctoral Fellowship, Centre for Visual Sciences. Visual Neurosciences, John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University.
BIOL1130 "Frontiers in Biology", 1st year course
ANIM5505 “Marine Neuroecology and Behaviour”, 4th/5th year course
ANIM3365 “Behavioural Ecology”, 3rd year course
ANIM3320 “Comparative Neurobiology”, 3rd year course
Useful links
New and noteworthy
Current projects
*Visual Information Processing under Natural Conditions
Fiddler crabs are uniquely suited for analysing in detail how visual information is used under real-life conditions to make behavioural decisions such as escaping from predators, attracting and selecting mates or defending their burrows.
We currently analyse how crabs organize their anti-predator responses given that their visual system provides only incomplete information on the risks posed by predatory birds. We determine the visual input fiddler crabs have available when making escape decisions by simultaneously measuring the crabs' responses together with what they see during predation events. As part of this effort we reconstruct the sampling array of the crab's compound eye and determine their spectral, spatial and temporal sensitivity by intracellular recordings.

*Colour vision in marsupials
This project investigates the early evolution of mammalian colour vision by determining the perception of colour and the physiological basis of di- and trichromacy in marsupials. We compare wallabies, possums and dunnarts. Marsupials, unlike other mammals, have (human-like) trichromatic colour vision, which makes it particularly interesting to understand their alternative design for colour vision. The mechanisms which underly marsupial trichromacy are as yet poorly understood and we don't even know yet how these animals achieve trichromacy, given that genetically, they only have two cone opsins and should thus be dichromats like all other non-primate mammals. We use behavioural, physiological and anatomical methods to explore the colour discrimination abilities of these animals.
Research profile
Research profile and publications

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Last updated:
Tuesday, 3 November, 2015 2:39 PM