Behavioural and Population Ecology

Research in behavioural ecology aims to elucidate the ecological and evolutionary basis for animal behaviour, while research in population ecology seeks to explain the dynamics of animal populations, including extinction processes. A proper understanding of animal behaviour and population dynamics can make an invaluable contribution to the design of effective conservation policy and practice. Our research in behavioural and population ecology has two major interlinked aims:

  • To test fundamental hypotheses in behavioural and population ecology
  • To use our knowledge of the behavioural and population ecology of wild species to inform conservation policy and management.

We work on a range of vertebrate and invertebrate species, in terrestrial and freshwater systems, using a combination of desk-, lab- and field-based approaches. Much of our work falls into four key programmes:

  1. Exploring social evolution and its implications
  2. Understanding the role of individual variability in population dynamics
  3. Improving methods for monitoring individuals and populations
  4. Developing predictive approaches for population management

I. Exploring social evolution and its implications

Most of our work in this programme focuses on the opportunities and constraints of social life, and on behavioural interactions between individuals more generally. Topics include:

  1. Personality, phenotypic plasticity, and social learning
  2. Hunting behaviour, social foraging, and diet choice
  3. Reproductive skew, mating strategies, and sexual coercion
  4. Social networks, contact rates and movement patterns

Staff working in this area include:

 

Name Study system Topics
Jon Bielby Mallorcan midwife toads (Alytes muletensis) 1,4
Patricia Brekke Hihi, or stitchbirds (Notiomystis cincta) 3
Guy Cowlishaw Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) 1,2,3,4
Sarah Durant Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) 2,3,4
John Ewen Hihi, or stitchbirds (Notiomystis cincta) 2,3
Trent Garner African bullfrogs (Pyxicephalus adspersus) 2,4
Xavier Harrison White-browed sparrow weavers (Plocepasser mahali) 3,4
Xavier Harrison Light-bellied Brent geese (Branta bernicla hrota) 1,4
Nathalie Pettorelli Various carnivores and ungulates 2
Rosie Woodroffe Badgers (Meles meles) - cattle (Bos primigenius) 4
Rosie Woodroffe African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) 2,4

 

Six PhD students also work in this area:

 

Name Study system Topics
Alice Baniel Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) 3
Emily Bell Paper wasps (Polistes dominulusP. canadensis) 1
Dave Daversa Alpine newts (Ichthyosaura alpestris) 4
Anne Hilborn Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) 2
Alexander Lee Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) 1,2
Cassandra Raby Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) 4

 

II. Understanding the role of individual variability in population dynamics

Our work in this programme focuses on how individual variability in behaviour, ecology, and health can influence higher-level processes in the dynamics of populations, including population viability and extinction risk. Topics include the effects of prey specialisation among foraging animals on predator-prey dynamics, dispersal decisions on local population structure, and the role of ‘superspreaders’ in disease epidemics. Staff working in this area include: Jon Bielby, Guy Cowlishaw, Sarah Durant, Xavier Harrison, Nathalie Pettorelli, and Rosie Woodroffe (see tables above for relevant study systems). Three PhD students also work in this area: Alexander Lee, Cassandra Raby and Anne Hilborn.

III. Improving methods for monitoring individuals and populations

In this programme, our work includes the theoretical development and practical application of camera trapping, the use of remote-sensing data to monitor environmental changes and their associated effects on individual behaviour and population-level traits, and the application of genetic tools to explore population history. Staff working in this area focus primarily on mammal populations, especially carnivores and ungulates, and include Chris Carbone, Sarah Durant, Nathalie Pettorelli, and Marcus Rowcliffe. Three PhD students also work in this area: Jess Bryant (Hainan gibbons), Jeremy Cusack (African mammals), and Simon Dures (lions). This research area also links closely with the Biodiversity and Macroecology theme, and the People, Wildlife and Ecosystems theme.

IV. Developing predictive approaches for population management

Our work in this programme focuses on improving our ability to predict population dynamics for conservation management. Topics include improving population growth rate in translocation projects, assess the consequences of various management actions on population viability and enhancing our ability to predict patterns of disease infection and spread in animal populations, especially in the context of changing environments. Staff working in this area include Jon Bielby, Patricia Brekke, Alienor Chauvenet, Guy Cowlishaw, Sarah Durant, John Ewen, Nathalie Pettorelli, Marcus Rowcliffe, and Rosie Woodroffe (see above for relevant study systems). Seven PhD students also work in this area: Jess Bryant, Frances Clare, Dave Daversa, Simon Dures, Ben Garrod, Alexander Lee, and Cassandra Raby.

The research described here includes not only BPE projects but also a number of BPE-related research components of projects hosted by other themes at the Institute of Zoology, namely the Biodiversity and Macroecology theme, Evolution and Molecular Ecology theme, People, Wildlife and Ecosystems theme, and Wildlife Epidemiology theme.

Long-term research programmes

Long-term research programmes

Finally, over the years, we’ve had many fantastic staff and students working in the BPE theme at the Institute of Zoology. Recent staff leavers include:

Recent alumni