Welcome to the EGI

Oxford University LogoThe Edward Grey Institute is part of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. Founded in 1937, it conducts research into the behaviour, ecology, evolution and conservation of birds, with a strong emphasis on understanding organisms in their natural environments. Read more on the history of the EGI.

The EGI is particularly well known for its long-term population studies of birds, and as one of the birthplaces of behavioural ecology. These research themes are as strong as ever, and have recently been supplemented by vigorous programmes studying reproductive strategies in birds, speciation in Neotropical passerines, and the evolutionary ecology of avian malaria. For a quick overview of what we do, see this poster.

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Research Highlights

July 24, 2015

» Early-Life Stress Triggers Juvenile Zebra Finches to Switch Social Learning Strategies

zebra finches on novel foraging taskA new paper published in Current Biology by Damien Farine and colleagues shows that exposure to stress in early life led juvenile zebra finches to switch social learning strategies. Zebra finches acquire new foraging behaviours by observing conspecifics, but this information does not spread randomly through the social network. Using a novel statistical model revealed that finches only learn new tasks from knowledgeable adults and ignore juvenile demonstrators. Juveniles prioritise learning from their parents, but juveniles that experience stress during early development completely avoid learning from parents and instead learn exclusively from unrelated parents. This suggests that social learning strategies are plastic, and that early-life conditions provide cues that can shape developmental trajectories. Link to paper here. Media link to IFLScience here.

June 19, 2015

» Shared decision-making drives collective movement in wild baboons

F1 mediumA new paper published in Science by Damien Farine and colleagues sheds new light on collective movement in highly heterogeneous groups of animals in the wild. This combines fitting high-resolution collars to almost all individuals in a troop of wild baboons with innovative analytical techniques to reveal how primate troops decide where and when to move. Baboon movement dynamics are remarkably similar to those predicted by theoretical models of collective animal behaviour that are based on simple interaction rules, contrasting the long-standing belief that leadership in primates was based primarily on following socially dominant individuals. Link to paper here. Media link to National Geographic here. Video link here:


May 22, 2015

» Space matters: Great tits match their timing of breeding to the spring budburst of local oak trees, ensuring food supply for their nestlings

Tit (Ella)A new paper in the American Naturalist by Amy Hinks, Ella Cole, Ben Sheldon and colleagues reveals that individual great tits are able to synchronise reproductive timing with the phenology of their local environment, thus maximising the number of caterpillars available for their young. By monitoring the spring bud development of every oak tree within a 28-hectare area of Wytham Woods, the authors show that the timing of budburst of individual trees is highly repeatable between years and a strong predictor of the date of peak caterpillar abundance on a given oak. Budburst date varied considerably across the study site, meaning that great tits in neighboring territories experience considerably different environments from one another. The date that a female began laying was best predicted by the timing of oak leaf emergence within the immediate vicinity of her nest (<50m). This demonstrates that great tits are able to fine-tune their breeding decisions based on information from their local environment. Read the paper here  and see press release here .  Media links to Science highlights here; Oxford University Science Blog here.

(Photo above was taken by Roy & Marie Battell)

February 23, 2015

» Non-native lizards adapt rapidly to new climate

Lizard.Uller (1024x683)A recent study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B by Geoff While and colleagues shows that lizards introduced into England from Southern Europe only a few decades ago already have adapted to the cooler climate. Non-native females hold on to their eggs for longer before laying, capitalizing on the fact that a basking lizard can maintain a much higher body temperature than the surrounding soil. In addition, once the eggs are laid, embryos in non-native populations also develop faster than their native counterparts at cool temperatures. These responses may have been crucial for the persistence of wall lizard populations in England. Read the paper here and media links to BBC here.

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