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

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.

February 17, 2015

» Experimental manipulation of avian social structure reveals segregation is carried over across contexts

great tit thumbnail (3)A new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by Josh Firth and Ben Sheldon reports the results of a study that experimentally manipulated the social networks of wild great tits in Wytham woods. This research showed that experimentally-imposed social segregation was carried over into associations at free-access food patches, as well as at nesting sites when prospecting for breeding territories. This demonstrates external factors can create segregation that extends into multiple aspects of sociality. However, this separation disappeared once the experiment was over, indicating that social networks can also recover from segregation. Link to the paper here. Media links to Daily Mail here; Discover Magazine; here.

February 12, 2015

» Interspecific social networks promote information transmission in wild songbirds

bluetit1A paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by Damien Farine and colleagues develops a new analytical approach for quantifying rates of information transfer in multiple networks. They apply their method to experimental data showing that information about new food patches spreads through mixed-species social networks, but that it is transferred between species at approximately half the rate as between conspecifics.This research also reveals striking heterogeneity between species in the discovery and initial transmission of information, suggesting that species differ in their relative roles as information brokers in multispecies communities. You can read the paper here:


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