Dr. Josh A. Firth
Senior Associate - Data Science & Biological Systems
Scientist - Research Fellow Oxford University
[Collaboration network - click for full image]
Behaviour & Social Networks; Health & Psychiatry; Ecology & Evolution
Behaviour & Social Networks
How behaviour shapes social networks and govern social processes
Why do individuals differ in their behaviour, relationships, and social network positions?
How do behaviours and social networks shape individuals lives, health and fitness?
What are the consequences of social connections for disease transmission and the spread of new behaviours?
Ecology & Evolution
Ecological and evolutionary consequences of individual behaviour in natural populations
How does natural selection shape the traits and behaviours of individuals in wild populations?
What influences selection and what are the consequences?
How does demography interact with environmental factors and individual behaviour?
Health & Psychiatry
Identifying what indicators, and what influences, health and mental wellbeing
How does behaviour (e.g. social & physical activity, internet usage, nutrition) influence mental health?
Why do psychiatric conditions persist & can technological advances help mitigate them?
Which simple measures can we use to best indicate complex conditions?
Research systems, approaches, data, and people
emergent processes, simulation models, internet
The virtual world, and its interface with the real world, is a useful tool for understanding the underpinnings of behaviour and emergent consequences. I am particularly interested in: (1) Using computer simulations of individual-level behaviour to create social systems and assess the meaning of individuals' network positions, how systems can evolve, and how social processes (e.g. contagions) can act on them. (2) Taking empirical data and applying 'null models' to determine which specific components of the real-world data (e.g. time, space, individual traits) are important in shaping the observed patterns. (3) Putting real organisms into virtual worlds to examine how simple rules directly shape real-world behaviour. (4) Understanding how humans respond to virtual settings, particularly in how the online-world may change social interaction patterns, and the consequences of this.
Natural Avian Populations
social relationships, behaviour, ecology
The long-term study of wild birds at Wytham Woods, Oxford, provides an ideal model system for examining social behaviour in natural populations. In particular, the great tit population has been monitored since the 1940's, meaning some individuals today can be traced back 35 generations. This long-term pedigree enables detailed examination of how natural selection may act to shape traits, and how individuals' traits are shaped by genetics and environmental effects. Radio-Frequency Identification tracking of these birds began in 2007, meaning data detailing the winter flocking behaviour of over 10,000 individuals now provides large-scale observational information on their social behaviour. Finally, through developing RFID devices which interact with individuals in real-time, I also use experiments to manipulate social associations between individuals to test the consequences of sociality.
health, mental wellbeing, physical activity
As the medical sciences meet with the era of Big Data and tracking technologies, various opportunities to exist to gain an understanding of how individual behaviour relates to health across diverse contexts. In collaboration with biomedical researchers and psychiatrists, I work on various analytical and conceptual lines of research including implementing big datasets to assess contagious disease control, human health (particularly in relation to activity patterns and mental wellbeing), and the consequences of technology usage. These collaborations with the practitioners and researchers working in these areas have fortunately led to realised impact in terms of (i) informing the UK response to the COVID-19 pandemic, (ii) contributing to the design of physical heath interventions for people with mental illness, (iii) the development of new tools for measuring activity of people in relation to mental health, and (iv) use in training health professions e.g. through featuring in clinical training textbooks and as part of clinician training courses.
microbiome, ageing, conservation
Using different systems is beneficial for making specialised insights (i.e. answering questions that specific systems are well suited to), and also for making generalised insights (i.e. by finding common patterns). I'm currently involved in various systems, such as (1) using open-access human tracking data for predicting how diseases may spread and designing bespoke intervention procedures to control them (working particularly with Lewis Spurgin & Adam Kucharski), (2) A long-term study of red deer population based on the isle of rum for understanding how environmental and individual factors shapes social networks (working particularly with Greg Albery & Dan Nussey) (3) A wild mouse population in Oxford provides a system for examining how individuals' microbiome is shaped by social behaviour (working with Sarah Knowles, Aura Raulo & Tim Coulson). (3) Peruvian local fisheries are particularly relevant to conservation, and allow examination of how positive behaviours can spread through social networks (working with Will Arlidge & E.J. Milner-Gulland).
Publications, Seminars, Professional Activities, Grants, & Media Coverage
Selected Recent Publications:
(Click here for full list of publications)
Pung R, Firth JA et al. Using high-resolution contact networks to evaluate SARS-CoV-2 transmission and control in large-scale multi-day events. Nature Communications; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-29522-y
Recent Seminars & Other Activities:
10 Invited Seminars (~60minute talk, and research visit - from 2016-Present) including: Imperial College London, Oxford University, Edinburgh University, Leeds University, Sheffield University, Cork University, Exeter University, Bristol University.
8 International Conferences (~15-20minute talk – from 2013-Present) including: ISBE Minneapolis USA (2018), ISBE Exeter UK (2016), IEC Cairns AUS (2015), ISBE New York (2014).
PhD Supervision: DPhil project supervision & DPhil Skills workshops (Oxford - 2019-Present)
SPI-M Member: Reporting to SAGE and providing advice to the Department of Health and Social Care and wider UK government (2020-Present)
Undergraduate Teaching: Lectures, project supervision, and tutorials (Oxford - 2015-Present)
Governing Body Member: Merton College (Oxford - 2017-2020)
Reviewer: Reviewed >80 Manuscripts for top journals, including Nature, Science, etc, & grants totalling >$3.3mil
Guest Writer: The Conversation, Nature Blog, Academic Life Histories (2015-Present)
Outreach activities: Primary School, A Levels & Public Lectures (2015-Present)
Lead Organiser: Oxford BES Series (2020), OXBER Conservation Behaviour Meeting (Berlin - 2019 June), Royal Society Hooke Scientific Meeting (London - 2022 Apr)
Project Leader: Modelling Collective Behaviour Workshop (Brooklyn, NYC - 2019 June)
Editor: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B (Guest Editor - 2022), eLife (Guest Editor), Avian Biology Research (2018-2019)
Active Society Memberships: European Cooperation in Science and Technology (e-COST expert), International Society for Behavioural Ecology, Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, International Society for Conservation Biology, Conservation Culturomics Working Group,
Past Society Memberships: Evolution, American Society of Naturalists, Comparative Cognition Society
Recent Grants & Awards:
NERC Independent Research Fellowship (PI – 5yr) - Sep 2022
Roy. Soc. Rapid Assist. Modelling Pandemic ECI Award - Apr 2021
Royal Society Hooke Scientific Meeting (PI) - Jul 2020
OXBER Seed Grant (Co-I) - Aug 2019
NERC Standard Grant (Co-I) - Apr 2019
BBSRC Discovery Fellowship Award (PI) - Mar 2019
Merton College Junior Research Fellowship (PI) - Oct 2017
EGI Research Fellowship (PI) - May 2016
MPLS Exceptional DPhil Acknowledgement - May 2016
Selected Recent Media Coverage:
Contact & CV
Contact me about research opportunities, collaborations, and projects.
Josh A Firth
Josh A Firth © 2020
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