Dr Jackie Chappell DPhil

Dr Jackie Chappell

School of Biosciences
Associate Professor in Animal Behaviour

Contact details

W122, School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Chappell is an expert in the field of animal cognition and is involved in interdisciplinary research and teaching. Her research focus is on understanding the ways that animals use their intelligence to adapt to complex, dynamic environments. She is Deputy Head of School in the School of Biosciences.


  • BSc 1991, University of Bristol, Biology
  • DPhil 1996, University of Oxford, Navigation in homing pigeons


After completing a DPhil on the mechanisms of homing pigeon navigation at the University of Oxford in 1996, Dr Chappell started her post-doctoral career by investigating interval timing in birds and then tool use and manufacture by New Caledonian crows, also at the University of Oxford. Following a temporary lectureship in Behavioural Ecology at Oxford between 2001 and 2003, she started her current post at the University of Birmingham in 2004. She is now Deputy Head of School of the School of Biosciences.


Dr Chappell teaches on a range of second and final year courses in Biosciences covering topics such as sensory ecology, social behaviour and co-operation, evolution of humans and other animals, and animal behaviour. She leads a final year module, ‘Animal Behaviour: From Theory to Application’, which covers technological and theoretical advances in the field, and the ways in which these have generated novel applications for behavioural research. She supervises final year practical, literature review and MSci projects on animal behaviour. The practical projects are often field-based, and she has good partnerships with local zoos, so that students can conduct applied research as part of their project. Finally, she does data analysis and programming extensively as part of her research, and helps students build quantitative skills through a second year skills module, using R.

Postgraduate supervision

For a list of possible PhD projects offered by Dr Chappell www.findaphd.com/search/customlink.asp?inst=birm-Biol&supersurname=Chappell


Research Theme within School of Biosciences: Biosystems and Environmental Change 

Lab website

Dr Chappell completed her DPhil at the University of Oxford, where she subsequently spent several years studying various aspects of animal cognition. Her work at Oxford focused on the cognition of tool manufacturing behaviour in New Caledonian crows. This behaviour is unique among free-living non-humans because of the use of hook tools, the degree of standardisation of the tools, and the use of different tool types. One interesting question is whether tool manufacture is rare because of the scarcity of selection pressure on species to use tools, or whether tool use and manufacture requires advanced cognitive capabilities that most species do not possess. 

Since moving to the University of Birmingham in 2004, her interests broadened to encompass investigating the cognitive architecture involved in the perception of affordances (the ways in which objects can be manipulated and used) causality and planning, and the way in which this develops ontogenetically and phylogenetically. For example, how do animals integrate information about affordances and relationships discovered during exploration with their pre-existing knowledge? Do animals plan a complex sequence of actions when solving multi-step physical problems? As part of this interdisciplinary research, she collaborated with Professors Sarah Beck and Ian Apperly in the School of Psychology on tool innovation in human children, and the evolution of intelligence with Prof. Aaron Sloman

More recently, her research has had a more applied focus, translating research about how animals use their intelligence to adapt to complex environments into understanding about how captivity influences their behavioural profile, welfare, and conservation value. She and Prof. Susannah Thorpe co-created the Enclosure Design Tool project, in partnership with UK zoos and global sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres housing great apes. This suite of tools to enables users to collect data on their great apes, which is automatically analysed and compared to the behavioural profile of wild apes. Users then receive recommendations about ways to create physically and mentally stimulating enclosures that mimic the physical and mechanical challenges faced by wild great apes in the forest canopy. Their programme of research, in partnership with orangutan rehabilitation centres in Indonesia, supports centres in equipping orangutans in their care with the behavioural repertoire, skills, physical strength and stamina and mental resilience to thrive once they have been re-introduced to the wild. In a Royal Society Industry Fellowship, Dr. Chappell has also extended this approach to another group of animals that are challenging to keep in captivity: parrots. 

Case study: Improving the wellbeing and conservation value of captive great apes 

Listen to my podcast 'Clever crows rely on a unique bird's eye view (MP3 - 5.35MB)' or read the podcast transcript

Listen to my podcast 'Intelligence' (MP3 - 17.3MB).

Other activities

  • External member of Animal Welfare Committee, Drayton Manor Park Zoo (2023 - )
  • Editor of Animal Behaviour (2020 - 2023)
  • On Board of Consulting Editors, Learning & Behavior (2016 - 2023)
  • External Member of BBC Editorial Review Board for BBC Wildlife Magazine (2016 - 2020)


Recent publications


Bridgeland-Stephens, L, Thorpe, SKS, Price, E, Hunt, G & Chappell, J 2024, 'Understanding the welfare requirements of a neurologically and physically divergent captive male Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii)', F1000Research, vol. 13, 121. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.143231.1

Bridgeland-Stephens, L, Thorpe, S & Chappell, J 2023, 'Potential resilience treatments for orangutans (Pongo spp.): lessons from a scoping review of interventions in humans and other animals', Animal Welfare, vol. 32, e77. https://doi.org/10.1017/awf.2023.97

Cutting, N, Apperly, I, Chappell, J & Beck, S 2019, 'Is tool modification more difficult than innovation?', Cognitive Development, vol. 52, 100811. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2019.100811

Hanson, N, Thorpe, S & Chappell, J 2017, 'Arboreal postures elicit hand preference when accessing a hard-to-reach foraging device in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus)', International Journal of Primatology, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 717-731. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-017-9976-7

Chappell, J 2017, 'Bird brains: does absolute size matter?', Learning & Behavior, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 1–2. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13420-016-0247-9

Portugal, SJ, Ricketts, RL, Chappell, J, White, CR, Shepard, EL & Biro, D 2017, 'Boldness traits, not dominance, predicts exploratory flight range and homing behaviour in homing pigeons', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, vol. 372, no. 1727, 20160234. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2016.0234

Beck, S, Williams, C, Cutting, N, Apperly, I & Chappell, J 2016, 'Individual differences in children's innovative problem-solving are not predicted by divergent thinking or executive functions', Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences, vol. 371, no. 1690, 20150190. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2015.0190

Chappell, J, Phillips, AC, Thorpe, SKS, Van Noordwijk, MA, Mitra Setia, T & Stanyon, R (ed.) 2015, 'The Ontogeny of gap crossing behaviour in Bornean Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii)', PLoS ONE, vol. 10, no. 7, e0130291. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0130291

Tecwyn, E, Thorpe, S & Chappell, J 2014, 'Development of planning in 4- to 10-year-old children: reducing inhibitory demands does not improve performance', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 125, pp. 85-101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2014.02.006

Beck, SR, Cutting, N, Apperly, IA, Demery, Z, Iliffe, L, Rishi, S & Chappell, J 2014, 'Is tool-making knowledge robust over time and across problems?', Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 5, 1395. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01395

Cutting, N, Apperly, IA, Chappell, J & Beck, SR 2014, 'The puzzling difficulty of tool innovation : why can’t children piece their knowledge together?', Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 125, pp. 110-117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2013.11.010

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Chappell, J, Cutting, N, Tecwyn, E, Apperly, I, Beck, S & Thorpe, S 2015, Minding the Gap: A Comparative Approach to Studying the Development of Innovation. in A Kaufman & J Kaufman (eds), Animal Creativity and Innovation. Academic Press (Elsevier), pp. 287-314.

Chappell, J 2014, Acting on the World: Understanding How Agents Use Information to Guide Their Action. in JL Wyatt, DD Petters & DC Hogg (eds), From Animals to Robots and Back: Reflections on Hard Problems in the Study of Cognition: A Collection in Honour of Aaron Sloman. vol. 22, Cognitive Systems Monographs, vol. 22, Springer, Switzerland, pp. 51-64. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-06614-1_4

Entry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Thorpe, S & Chappell, J 2019, Arboreality. in J Vonk & TK Shackelford (eds), Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Springer, pp. 1-8. <https://www.springer.com/gb/book/9783319550640>

Review article

Chappell, J & Thorpe, SKS 2022, 'The role of great ape behavioral ecology in One Health: implications for captive welfare and re-habilitation success', American journal of primatology, vol. 84, no. 4-5, e23328. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.23328

View all publications in research portal