Research Fellow
Climate change ecology
Conservation/Evolutionary genetics
Anthropogenic threats
Sexual selection/Reproductive failure
Small population recovery
Contact details

Institute of Zoology
Zoological Society of London
Regent's Park
United Kingdom

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Patricia Brekke's research focus is on adaptation and the ecological, genetic and evolutionary consequences of conservation interventions and management of species under anthropogenic threat.

Recovery of small populations is reliant on developing resilience to the multitude of anthropogenic stressors to which they are exposed with support from conservation management. Patricia is interested in understanding the genetic, behavioural, and demographic underpinnings of resilience in small populations, particularly birds and how these can vary with conservation interventions to improve the management of threatened species. 

To do this work, Patricia uses several longitudinal datasets of wild and captive bird populations, mainly based in New Zealand, as well as global datasets on avian hatching failure and the development and application of novel meta-analytical, genetic, genomic and microscopy techniques. 

Hihi nesting

Patricia also examines the impact and response of wildlife to air pollution exposure and the implications for wildlife health. This work utilizes Eastern grey squirrel populations introduced to the UK as the model system and the development of state-of-the-art histopathology, imaging, and genomic techniques to assess exposure to air pollutants, response and disease outcomes as well as the development of non-invasive sampling techniques to apply to endemic and threatened wildlife. 

Patricia's work is supported by a wonderful team of academic collaborators, government agencies, community groups, iwi, NGOs based in New Zealand and the UK.

read more about Patricia's research

If you're interested in working with us, as a PhD student, postdoc or collaborator, please get in touch!

Professional history

2013-present: IoZ Research Fellow - Institute of Zoology, ZSL. 
2011-2013:    AXA Research Fellow - Institute of Zoology, ZSL 
2009-2011:   Leverhulme Trust Postdoctoral Research Associate - Institute of Zoology, ZSL

2005-2009: PhD – Conservation genetics of the New Zealand hihi (Notiomystis cincta). NERC funded. Imperial College London/Institute of Zoology, ZSL
1999-2002: BSc – Zoology, University of Sheffield


Bailey, S., Guhlin, J., Senanayake, D., Scherer, P., Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., Santure, A. W., Whibley, A. (2023) Assembly of female and male hihi genomes (stitchbird; Notiomystis cincta) enables characterisation of the W chromosome and resources for conservation genomics. Molecular Ecology Resources. In Press.

Morland, F., Ewen, J. G., Simons, M. J. P., Hemmings, N.*, Brekke, P.* (2023) Early-life telomere length predicts life-history strategy and reproductive senescence in a threatened wild songbird. Molecular Ecology. In Press.

Franks, V., Thorogood, R., Brekke, P. (2023) Parental breeding decisions and genetic quality predict social structure of independent offspring. Molecular Ecology. In Press.

Torres-Blas, I., Horsler, H., Paredes, U. M., Perkins, M., Priestnall, S. L., Brekke, P., (2023) Impact of exposure to urban air pollution on grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) lung health. Environmental Pollution.

Duntsch, L., de Villemereuil, P., Whibley, A., Brekke, P., Bailey, S., Ewen, J. G., & Santure, A. W. (2023). Genomic signatures of inbreeding depression for a threatened Aotearoa New Zealand passerine. Molecular Ecology.

Rutschmann, A., Santure, A. W., Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., Shanahan, D., & de Villemereuil, P. (2022). Variation in shape and consistency of selection between populations of the threatened Hihi (Notiomystis cincta). Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 35(10), 1378-1386.

Bonnet, T., Morrissey, M. B., de Villemereuil, P., Alberts, S. C., Arcese, P., Bailey, L. D., Brekke, P., ... & Kruuk, L. E. (2022). Genetic variance in fitness indicates rapid contemporary adaptive evolution in wild animals. Science, 376(6596), 1012-1016.

Duntsch, L., Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., & Santure, A. W. (2021). Who are you? A framework to identify and report genetic sample mix-ups. Molecular Ecology Resources, 00, 1-13

Lee, K. D., Millar, C. D., Brekke, P., Whibley, A., Ewen, J. G., Hingston, M., Zhu, A., & Santure, A. W. (2021). The design and application of a 50 K SNP chip for a threatened Aotearoa New Zealand passerine, the hihi. Molecular Ecology Resources, 00, 1– 15.

Assersohn, K., Brekke, P., & Hemmings, N. (2021). Physiological factors influencing female fertility in birds. Royal Society Open Science, 8(7), 202274.

Duntsch, L., Whibley, A., Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., & Santure, A. W. (2021). Genomic data of different resolutions reveal consistent inbreeding estimates but contrasting homozygosity landscapes for the threatened Aotearoa New Zealand hihi. Molecular Ecology.

Assersohn, K., Marshall, A. F., Morland, F., Brekke, P., & Hemmings, N. (2021). Why do eggs fail? Causes of hatching failure in threatened populations and consequences for conservation. Animal Conservation.

de Villemereuil, P., Charmantier, A., Arlt, D., Bize, P., Brekke, P., Brouwer, L., ... & Chevin, L. M. (2020). Fluctuating optimum and temporally variable selection on breeding date in birds and mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(50), 31969-31978.

Rutschmann, A., de Villemereuil, P., Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., Anderson, N., & Santure, A. W. (2020). Consequences of space sharing on individual phenotypes in the New Zealand hihi. Evolutionary Ecology, 34(5), 821-839.

Duntsch, L., Tomotani, B. M., de Villemereuil, P., Brekke, P., Lee, K. D., Ewen, J. G., & Santure, A. W. (2020). Polygenic basis for adaptive morphological variation in a threatened Aotearoa| New Zealand bird, the hihi (Notiomystis cincta). Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 287(1933), 20200948.

Kutscher, D., Asogan, D., Mudway, I., Brekke, P., Beales, C., Wang, X., ... & Stewart, T. J. (2020). Imaging of Trace Elements Using Laser Ablation–Inductively Coupled Plasma–Mass Spectrometry: Emerging New Applications. Spectroscopy, 35(S4), 16-26.

Green, R. E., Brekke, P. , Ward, H. , Slaymaker, M. , van der Velde, M. , Komdeur, J. and Dugdale, H. L. (2019), Use of microsatellite‐based paternity assignment to establish where Corn Crake Crex crex chicks are at risk from mechanized mowing. Ibis. doi:10.1111/ibi.12724

de Villemereuil, P., Rutschmann, A., Ewen, J. G., *Santure, A. W., & *Brekke, P. (2019). Little adaptive potential of a threatened species. Current Biology. 29(5) doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.072 *joint senior author

de Villemereuil, P., Rutschmann, A., Ewen, J. G., *Santure, A. W., & *Brekke, P. (2018). Can threatened species adapt in a restored habitat? No expected evolutionary response in lay date for the New Zealand hihi. Evolutionary Applications. 00:1–16. *joint senior author

Groombridge, J., Raisin, C., & Brekke, P. (2018). Island Populations – Genetic factors driving declines. Eds Species Conservation: Lessons from Islands, 51. Cambridge University Press.

Knight, A., Ewen, J. G., Brekke, P., & Santure, A. W. (2018). The Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Epidemiology of Coccidia of Passerine Birds. In Advances in parasitology (Vol. 99, pp. 35–60). Academic Press.

MacLeod, K. J., Brekke, P., Tong, W., Ewen, J. G., & Thorogood, R. (2017). Do mothers bias offspring sex ratios in carotenoid-rich environments? Behavioral Ecology, 28(1), 131–137.

Richardson, K. M., Ewen, J. G., Brekke, P., Doerr, L. R., Parker, K. A., & Armstrong, D. P. (2017). Behaviour during handling predicts male natal dispersal distances in an establishing reintroduced hihi (Notiomystis cincta) population. Animal Conservation, 20(2).

MacLeod, K. J., Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., & Thorogood, R. (2016). Minutes matter: brief hatching asynchrony adversely affects late-hatched hihi nestlings, but not life beyond the nest. Animal Behaviour, 119, 111–118.

Brekke, P., Ewen, J. G., Clucas, G. Santure, A. (2015) Determinants of male floating behaviour and floater reproduction in a threatened population of the hihi (Notiomystis cincta). Evolutionary Applications.8, 796-806

Dawson, D. A., Brekke, P., Dos Remedios, N., Horsburgh, G. H. (2015) A marker suitable for sex-typing birds from degraded samples. Conservation Genetics Resources. 7, 337-343

Grueber, C. E., Knaffer, G. J., King, T. M., Senior, A. M., Grosser, S., Robertson, B., Weston, K. A., Brekke, P., et al. (2015) Toll-like receptor diversity in 1- threatened bird species: relationship with microsatellite heterozygosity. Conservation Genetics. 1-17

Walker, L. K., Ewen, J. G., Brekke, P., Kilner, R. M. (2013) Sexually selected dichromatism in the hihi Notiomystis cincta: multiple colours for multiple receivers. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 27, 1522-1535

Thorogood, R., Armstrong, D.P., Low, M., Brekke, P., Walker, L., Ewen, J.G. (2015) 1995 – present: A 15 year history of ecological research on Tiritiri Matangi Island’s Hihi. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 37, 298-306

Walker L.K., Armstrong, D.P, Brekke, P., Chauvenet, A.L.M., Kilner, R.M., Ewen, J.G. (2013) Giving hihi a helping hand: assessment of alternative rearing diets in food supplemented populations of an endangered bird. Animal Conservation. 5, 538-545.

Brekke, P., Cassey, P., Ariani, C., Ewen, J.G. (2013) Evolution of extreme-mating behaviour: patterns of extra-pair paternity in a species with forced extra-pair copulation. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology. 67, 963-972

Brekke, P., Wang, J., Bennett, P.M., Cassey, P., Dawson, D.A., Horsburgh G. J., Ewen, J.G. (2013) Postcopulatory mechanisms of inbreeding avoidance in the island endemic hihi (Notiomystis cincta). Behavioural Ecology. doi: 10.1093/beheco/arr183

Brekke, P., Bennett, P., Santure, A., & Ewen, J. G. (2011) High genetic diversity in the remnant island population of hihi and the genetic consequences of re-introduction. Molecular Ecology. 20, 29-45.

Brekke, P., Bennett, P. M., Wang, J., Pettorelli, N., Ewen, J. G. (2010) Male-biased inbreeding depression in an endangered bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B. London. 277, 3677-3684.

Wang, J., Brekke, P., Huchard, E., Knapp, L. A., Cowlishaw, G. (2010) Estimation of parameters of inbreeding and genetic drift in populations with overlapping generations. Evolution. 64, 1704-1718

Ewen, J.G., Thorogood, R., Brekke, P., Cassey, P., Karadasd, F. & Armstrong, D.P. (2009) Maternally invested carotenoids compensate costly ectoparasitism in the hihi. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106, 12798-12802

Brekke, P., Dawson, D.A., Horsburgh, G.J. & Ewen, J.G. (2009) Characterization of microsatellite loci in the hihi, Notiomystis cincta (Notiomystidae, Aves). Molecular Ecology Resources 4, 1255-1258.

Birkhead, T.R., Pellatt, E.J., Brekke, P., Yates, R. & Castillo-Juarez, H. (2005) Genetic effects on sperm design in the zebra finch. Nature. 434, 383-387.