Broadly, my lab group is interested in:

  1. Social decision-making
  2. Behavioural strategies for dealing with environmental uncertainty
  3. Multi-level selection and the evolutionary drivers of sociality
  4. Social interaction rules

The aim of our research is to understand the feedbacks between natural selection, phenotypic population structure, social decision-making, and the emergent behaviours of social groups. In particular, we are interested in the role of social behaviour in mediating selection, and how selection drives evolutionary responses in group-level properties. We combine automated tracking technologies, novel analytical approaches, and simulations to explore both the mechanisms and the ecological implications of group living. We currently investigate these questions in range of study systems and projects:

(i) Social networks and collective behaviour in guineafowl. What processes drive the evolution of social structure and group cohesion? We are establishing new study system using guineafowl to explore the links between social behaviour across temporal scales (from collective movement to dispersal) and ecological scales (across seasons). This research integrates multiple approaches from field observations to high-resolution GPS tracking to develop a better understanding of the social processes that underpin individual and group decision-making. For example, variation in inter-individual relationships can have profound implications for social processes. Guineafowl are a powerful study system for exploring these types of questions as they enable experiments in both captivity and in the wild, and comparisons across species.

(ii) The role of individual contributions to mating systems. How do individual mating strategies impact mating systems? Using high-resolution continuous tracking of interactions in replicated colonies of zebra finches, we are investigating the ontogeny of social relationships (e.g. pair bonds) and how individual differences in investment contribute to the emergence of mating decisions at the scale of groups or populations. This project relies on our recently-developed automated tracking system providing us with unprecedented detail on the moment-by-moment patterns of social behaviour across entire breeding colonies, together with experimental manipulations, to uncover the building blocks of animal societies.

(iii) Cooperation across species. How do groups of predators hunt together? In collaboration with researchers from Brazil, we are working to uncover the mechanistic foundations of a unique human-dolphin cooperative fishing behaviour. We are deploying state-of-the-art technology to quantify the costs and benefits by each species, and to test how heterogeneity among individuals impacts the stability and conservation of the system.

(iv) The selective consequences and evolutionary implications of group phenotypic composition. Group-level properties can shape how selection acts across different phenotypes. Linking the costs and benefits of living with particular other types of individuals and the decision rules of individuals when moving between groups can provide insights into the evolution implications of group phenotypic composition. Using modelling we investigate a) what conditions determine the evolution of phenotypic plasticity or different group joining-leaving rules, and b) how indirect genetic effects can shape the structure of animal social networks.

(v) Predator-prey foraging dynamics. What are the foraging strategies of predators who hunt social prey? Although group-living has been widely studied in the context of predation risk, much less attention has been paid to studying what strategies foraging predators have evolved to counter the anti-predator behaviour of prey species. In particular, little is known about how hunting behaviour by predators feeds back on their foraging strategies via the increase in sociality they induce in their prey. Using a range of data sources, we aim to explore how predators forage, whether they produce selective pressure for particular phenotypes, and how they deal with behavioural responses in their prey.

Collaborative projects:

(vi) Dynamic networks and collective decision-making in wild baboons. Using unique whole-group, high-resolution GPS tracking of baboons, we collaborate with the Crofoot Lab from UC Davis to investigate mechanisms and social processes in complex and heterogeneous groups of primates. In particular, we investigate the movement rules of baboons, how baboon troops make decisions about where and when to go, and how these processes are affected by the environment.

(vii) The social dynamics of cultural behaviour: transmission biases and adaptive social learning strategies in wild great tits. Social learning can facilitate the spread of between-group behavioural variants, forming local traditions. We collaborate with the Sheldon Lab at the University of Oxford on a project that is investigating three components that may influence the extent and pattern of diffusion dynamics: social interactions, adaptive use of social learning strategies, and individual variation in social information use. In particular, our role is to a) investigate social learning as a collective process underpinning behavioural plasticity and enabling individuals to adaptively track environmental variability, and b) to develop technologies to interact with individual birds and experimentally evaluate social learning strategies.

(viii) Information use and community composition in mixed-species flocks. Community structure can profoundly influence the quality and availability of social information, and itself be shaped by information transmission networks. Using mixed-species flocking as a model system, we investigate how ecological factors influence information flows, and how these subsequently impact the social structure of animal communities. In particular, we are interested in how individuals vary in promoting information transfer, either as producers or receivers. This research uses the PIT-tagged populations of wild tits in Wytham Woods (Oxford, UK) and Moggingen (Germany), and a colour-marked population of thornbills and associated species at Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve (Canberra, Australia).