I am a Research Fellow in the Ecology and Evolution research group. My lab aims to investigate social evolution and how social behaviours and group living allow animals to cope with environmental change. We focus our research on five themes: Cooperation, Cognition, Communication, Conservation and Climate Change. We use field-based mensurative and manipulative experiments with laboratory approaches (e.g. genetics), including employing novel datalogging technology to gain information about how animals behave in a variety of ecological conditions.
Teaching and supervision
No courses or modules. Available to supervise Masters and PhD students.
1. The evolution of cooperation
Cooperation allows animals to cope with many different challenges of life, and there are many adaptive benefits to cooperation. Our lab examines ecological drivers of cooperation in Cape ground squirrels and Siberian Jays, species that suffer harsh environmental conditions in regions undergoing large impacts of climate change. Both species suffer high predation rates and cooperate with anti-predator behaviours. Cape ground squirrels also allogroom and give allocare to group members. Investigating the context, extent and consequences of these cooperative behaviours allow for understanding the benefits and costs of group-living in these species.
2. The link between cognition, cooperation and climate adaptation
Cognition, defined as all ways in which animals uptake information through their senses, and process, retain and act on this information, is pivotal in how animals can adapt to environmental change. As cognition underlies behavioural plasticity by allowing animals to track environmental changes and respond appropriately, cognitive abilities may allow individuals to cope with the novel and challenging situations brought upon by rapid environmental change. Cognition is also strongly linked to group and family living, as group-living presents many opportunities to grown a large brain and provides social learning opportunities. Our lab is examining the variation in cognitive performance within social groups and the association with climatic variables such as temperature (heat/cold) and water stress.
3. The role of communication in cooperation.
Animals gain information about their environment via diverse sensory modalities, including the use of communication systems (e.g., visual or acoustic signals). Communication signals may also facilitate social interactions, allowing for increased group cohesion, task partitioning or reduced conflict. Understanding how, why and under which contexts an animal gains information within the social environment is important in furthering our knowledge on the evolution of social behaviour. Group-living species are good model systems for examining these questions, as these highly social environments provide individuals with opportunities to gather and use information from single and repeated interactions with individuals and groups of individuals.
4. Conservation and climate change
There is overwhelming evidence that the ecologies of animals are changing in response to human activity and climate change. Animals may respond to changes in their environment with alterations in their physical, physiological and behavioural traits. However, behaviours can provide some of the first clues that animals are being affected by their changing environment. Furthermore, in social species, interactions between ecological factors and social behaviours (such as cooperation) may influence individual and population responses. Thus, sociality may either mediate or exacerbate the negative effects of environmental change and influence a species’ resilience to rapid environmental change. Our lab is examining how animals are responding to rapid environmental changes, and whether observed changes are adaptive.