Dr Neill Andrew Herbert

PhD (University of Auckland), MSc (Plymouth University), BSc (University of Wales, Swansea)

Profile Image
Senior Lecturer

Research | Current

Using fish as a preferred model organism my research uses a comparative and integrative approach to explore the behavioural consequences of impaired oxygen transport, the behavioural regulation of energetic demand in challenging aquatic environments and other concepts involving the interplay of fish physiology and behaviour. Whilst I have traditionally undertaken work within the fields of environmental, respiratory and sensory physiology and behaviour, I have recently expanded into more applied areas by developing a behavioural technology which improves the productivity, quality and welfare of fish in aquaculture.

Broad questions which my research aims to explore include the following:

  1. What are the behavioural and physiological features of fish responding to adverse environmental conditions? For example, how do fish respond (behaviourally and physiologically) to low oxygen levels? More specifically, what triggers avoidance behaviour? Does stress and a shift in oxygen carrying capacity motivate fish to leave adverse areas?
  2. Can the behavioural and physiological features of fish be manipulated to improve on farm rearing? For example, can we use the optomotor response (or other sensory manipulations) to promote sustained exercise whereby the productivity, quality and welfare of farmed fish is improved? Previous work in this area has led to the development of OptoSwim (http://www.gla.ac.uk/researchinstitutes/bahcm/researchfacilities/bioelectronicsunit/projects/enviromonitor/headline_363464_en.html)
  3. How do fish grow when subjected to non-stop exercise? Fish are unique in that they can balance the costs of exercise and grow at the same time but we still don’t fully understand the bioenergetics of (or the constraints surrounding) this phenomenon.
  4. How are fish expected to respond to future climate change (e.g. global warming)? In the first instance, do fish have the capacity to move in response to changing temperatures? To answer this basic question, we are starting compare behavioural thermal preference (using shuttle box technology) against the temperatures where metabolic scope (as a measure of optimal physiological performance) is maximised.
  5. How are important fish stocks affected by post-release mortality in recreational fisheries? Using a mix of field and laboratory experiments, our intention is to develop useful tools by which we can predict the mortality rate of fish released in recreational fisheries. Our current approach is to resolve how post-release mortality of species like snapper (Pagrus auratus) is correlated to levels of stress and reflex impairment at the point of capture and release.
  6. What are the implications of individual coping styles (personality) in fish? For example: 1) do marine reserves select for more bold (proactive) personalities and how does this affect the fitness of fish in these protected areas? At a different level, does individual coping style create problems for intensive aquaculture (e.g. growth retardation or “late runting”) where certain individuals are unable to adapt to the seacage environment?
  7. How does stress affect the visual performance of fish in terms of oxygen transport to the eye? Certain fish when stressed can develop a bulging eye condition called exophthalmia, leading us to believe that oxygen transport to the eye (through the choroid rete mirabile) is affected by stressful episodes. My research is interested in understanding the mechanism of exophthalmia and to provide a solution for the aquaculture industry.

Teaching | Current

  • BIOSCI 207 Adaptive design
  • BIOSCI 328 Fisheries and aquaculture (coordinator)
  • BIOSCI 329 Biology of Fishes
  • BIOSCI 727 Aquaculture


Postgraduate supervision

MSc students supervised:

Elliot Brown, Javed Khan, Bhakti Patel, Kate Hodgins, Swastika Lal, Courtney Farthing, Jo Copedo, Laura Goudie, Anna Kleinmans, Hana Cumming, Fraser Stobie

PhD students supervised:

Denham Cook, Javed Khan, Tristan McArley, Bailey Lovett



Associate editor for Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology (Taylor and Francis publishing)

Areas of expertise

Fish physiology and behaviour

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Undergraduate teaching coordinator for Marine Science

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • McArley, T. J., Hickey, A. J. R., & Herbert, N. A. (2017). Chronic warm exposure impairs growth performance and reduces thermal safety margins in the common triplefin fish (Forsterygion lapillum). The Journal of experimental biology, 220 (Pt 19), 3527-3535. 10.1242/jeb.162099
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tony Hickey
  • Herbert, N. A., Bröhl S, Springer, K., & Kunzmann, A. (2017). Clownfish in hypoxic anemones replenish host O2 at only localised scales. Scientific reports, 7 (1)10.1038/s41598-017-06695-x
  • Cumming, H., & Herbert, N. A. (2016). Gill structural change in response to turbidity has no effect on the oxygen uptake of a juvenile sparid fish. Conservation Physiology, 4 (1).10.1093/conphys/cow033
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/32433
  • Khan, J. R., Pether, S., Bruce, M., Walker, S. P., Hemar, Y., & Herbert, N. A. (2015). Exercise training reduces the flesh firmness of juvenile ha¯puku (Polyprion oxygeneios) with a hypertrophic reduction in muscle fibre density. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 49 (4), 429-438. 10.1080/00288330.2015.1069362
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Yacine Hemar
  • Khan, J. R., Pether, S., Bruce, M., Walker, S. P., & Herbert, N. A. (2015). The effect of temperature and ration size on specific dynamic action and production performance in juvenile hapuku (Polyprion oxygeneios). Aquaculture, 437, 67-74. 10.1016/j.aquaculture.2014.11.024
  • Khan, J. R., Iftikar, F. I., Herbert, N. A., Gnaiger, E., & Hickey, A. J. R. (2014). Thermal plasticity of skeletal muscle mitochondrial activity and whole animal respiration in a common intertidal triplefin fish, Forsterygion lapillum (Family: Tripterygiidae). Journal of comparative physiology. B, Biochemical, systemic, and environmental physiology, 184 (8), 991-1001. 10.1007/s00360-014-0861-9
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Tony Hickey
  • McArley, T. J., & Herbert, N. A. (2014). Mortality, physiological stress and reflex impairment in sub-legal Pagrus auratus exposed to simulated angling. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 461, 61-72. 10.1016/j.jembe.2014.07.016
  • Khan, J. R., Pether, S., Bruce, M., Walker, S. P., & Herbert, N. A. (2014). Optimum temperatures for growth and feed conversion in cultured hapuku (Polyprion oxygeneios) - Is there a link to aerobic metabolic scope and final temperature preference?. Aquaculture, 430, 107-113. 10.1016/j.aquaculture.2014.03.046

Contact details

Primary location

Level 2, Room 208
New Zealand