Study Sites

I am currently undertaking research at several study sites.  My research began at Mulligan's Flat Nature Reserve, near Canberra, Australia, with my collaborator Peter Milburn.  Our original aims were to establish a long-term monitoring site for evaluating the impacts of an anthropogenic habitat amelioration experiment undertaken by the Australian National University (see here for further details).  This involved designing a study with paired plots covering addition of fallen timber and kangaroo grazing exclosures.  However, during the first two years of the study we repeatedly captured birds in mixed-species flocks having maintained social group membership across both years.  These observations led me to my current project and in the (austral) autumn of 2011 I spent three months colour-marking and observing flocks of thornbills (Acanthiza spp.) to quantitatively describe their flocking associations and describe the importance of mutualistic interactions between buff-rumped (A. reguloides) and both yellow-rumped (A. chrysorrhoaand striated thornbills (A. lineata).  This study is sadly now largely on-hold.


Scarlet robin showing off its colour-bands 12 months after original capture (P. Milburn).

A yellow-box gum typical of the habitat at Mulligan's Flat

After my move to Oxford, I became heavily involved with the long-term study in Wytham Woods. To most ecologists or evolutionary biologists, Wytham Woods is synonymous with the pioneering work of David Lack and Chris Perrins on great tits (Parus major) which has gone on to countless studies on this model system exploring diverse topics (see here for further details).  However, my study is taking a step outside of the realm of the research undertaken in the past decade and revisiting some of the questions first posed by David Lack in his ground-breaking book on ecological isolation in birds.  Thus, in addition to participating in 'the breeding season', which involves monitoring the nests of blue (Cyanistes caeruleusand great tits, I undertake my research during the winter when the mixed-species bird flocks are most prominent.  This work is part of the social network study under the ERC grant awarded to Prof. Ben Sheldon.  Our research team has set-up a grid of 65 automated monitoring stations that detect the presence of PIT-tagged birds (c. 2850 individuals in 2011/12) across the winter.  My contribution has been to add three species to the study: nuthatch (Sitta europaea), marsh tit (Peocile palustris) and coal tit (Periparus ater); and I use both the detection grid as well as experimental plots in order to measure and quantify the collective behaviour of these mixed-species flocks.


Blue bells in Wytham Woods (L. Aplin)

A PIT-tagged great tit

Newly-hatched nuthatch chicks in a nest-box

My post-doctoral work on olive baboons first took me to the Mpala research centre in Kenya. This research station is co-run by Princeton University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and located in a very interesting area of the world - overlooking Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley. This is now my primary study where I have based my research project on vulturine guineafowl.


Olive baboons

Vulturine guineafowl

Princeton/UC Davis baboon project

When I moved to the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, I also established two new studies. I took over the local tit nestboxes, and established a new system on zebra finches. 


Overlooking the moat towards the mill - our workplace and the heart of the local nestbox population

Zebra finches identified using our automated tracking system

Zebra finch aviaries with automated tracking of individuals and monitoring of nestbox activity

Finally, I am collaborating with researchers from Brazil to study a rare human-dolphin interaction. Dolphin appear to cooperate with fishermen to catch fish. Why? That's what we're seeking to find out.

A dolphin signalling to a fisherman to cast his net

A line of fishermen waiting for the dolphins to signal