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 17, 2017

» Sperm and sex peptide stimulate aggression in female Drosophila

A new paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution by Eleanor Bath, Nathalie Seddon, and Stu Wigby of the EGI, investigated how mating influences female aggression in fruit flies. Mating was found to double the amount of time females spent fighting each other over food. This increase in aggression after mating was stimulated by sperm, and in part by an associated seminal fluid protein, the sex peptide. Interestingly, this post-mating increase in aggression was not directly linked to the costs of egg production. These results suggest that male ejaculates can have a surprisingly direct influence on female aggression. Link to paper here.

September 19, 2016

» The socio-ecology of fear: How predators shape the social relationships of great tits

Voelk.Picture1forEGI HighlightA new paper published in Scientific Reports by Bernhard Voelkl, Josh Firth & Ben Sheldon investigated how perceived predator pressure influences group composition and social relationships in flocks of British tits. In this experimental study the authors used model sparrowhawks to launch attacks on flocks of wild great tits and blue tits whilst monitoring their social dynamics. Non-lethal attacks caused instantaneous turn-over and mixing of group composition within foraging flocks. A single experimental ‘attack’ lasting on average less than three seconds, caused the amount of turn-over expected over three hours (2.0—3.8 hours) of undisturbed foraging, suggesting that nonlethal predator effects can greatly alter group composition within populations. This has implications for the birds’ social behaviour by increasing the number of potential interaction partners, as well as longer-term consequences for pair formation and emergent effects determined by social structure. This study provides the first evidence based on in depth monitoring of a social network that predators influence the social structure of groups, and it offers new perspectives on the key drivers of social behaviour in wild populations. Link to paper here.

September 15, 2016

» Winter social networks shape the breeding locations of great tits

Firth. Publication image.15.9.16A new paper published in Ecology Letters by Josh Firth & Ben Sheldon assessed how the spatial structure of breeding great tits is related to their previous winter social associations. Great tits form loose intermingling flocks as they search for food in the winter, but then make a single set decision on where to settle for building their nest and raising their chicks over the spring. Through tracking thousands of birds’ winter social associations and their subsequent breeding decisions over three years, the new study shows great tits breed nearest to the flock mates they were most associated with over winter. On a finer scale, they also arranged their territory boundaries so that they ‘neighboured’ their most preferred winter affiliates. Through influencing where individuals locate themselves, social networks may shape the future environments that individuals experience. The findings also illustrate how social associations at one point in life can carry-over into an important stage later on. Link to the paper here. Coverage in Daily Mail here.


June 1, 2016

» Manipulating social networks changes information flow and social learning

biology_letters_thumbnailA new study published in Biology Letters by Josh Firth, Ben Sheldon and Damien Farine monitored the spread of new information across a community of wild birds whilst experimentally manipulating which individuals could access the same resources as one another. This showed that as birds became more socially connected to those they could forage with, they were also more likely to gain information from them. They also prioritised learning from these individuals in comparison to those who could not access the same resources as them. This illustrates how changes to social structure can influence information flow, and how birds can adopt learning strategies to prioritise information from relevant tutors. Link to paper here

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