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

November 13, 2015

» Experimental evidence that social relationships determine individual foraging behaviour

Great tit. Josh FirthA new paper published in Current Biology by Josh Firth, Bernhard Voelkl, Damien Farine and Ben Sheldon examined how wild birds valued their relationship with their mated partner in comparison to their access to food. Using automated feeding stations, mated pairs were split so that male could only access the feeding stations that the female couldn’t, and vice versa. However, the birds chose to sacrifice access to food in order to stay with their partner over the winter period. This led to birds associating with other individuals based on their partner’s choices, rather than just their own preferences. Also, birds that followed their mate to feeders they couldn’t access themselves learnt, over time, to scrounge from them. The experiment illustrates how the social relationships that an individual holds can determine their behaviour, their position within a social network, and their social foraging strategies. Link to the paper here; The Conversation write-up; Media links: The Times; The Telegraph; The Daily Mail; Science.

October 21, 2015

» Carry-over effects of the social environment on future divorce probability in great tits

Culina. 2.For_EGI_SiteA new study published in Proceedings B by Antica Culina, Camilla Hinde, and Ben Sheldon shows that divorce in monogamous birds might be affected by the social environment in which breeding pairs form, and driven by the male’s (rather than female’s) social environment and preference for a partner. Using detailed data on winter social networks of tagged great tits males were found to have increased divorce probability if they were less strongly associated to their partner when the pair formed, or if there were fewer females in their social network at this time. Further exploration of the sex-specific effects of the social environment on divorce might give new valuable insights into processes of mate choice and sexual selection. Link to the paper here: DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0920. Media link here.

October 20, 2015

» Predicting bird phenology from space using satellite data

Cole pictureA new paper published in Ecology & Evolution by Ella Cole, Ben Sheldon and colleagues explores the utility of freely available satellite data to predict within-population variation in great tit and blue tit breeding phenology. The authors found that timing of reproduction in both species correlated positively with satellite-derived measures of vegetation green-up at the population and individual levels. Furthermore, they found that the degree of synchrony between bird and vegetation phenology showed marked spatial variation across the woodland, with areas of high oak tree and hazel density showing the strongest match. Knowledge of the environmental cues organisms use to time their breeding, and the scales at which these cues are experienced, is likely to be central to understanding how selection acts on these phenological traits. This study reveals the clear potential for using satellite-derived data to explore small-scale ecological processes. Read the paper here.

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.

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Upcoming Events & Seminars

EGI Seminar - Professor Hal Whitehead (Dalhousie University, Canada)

Hal Whitehead will give a seminar on "Social networks, culture and sperm whales". D38. All welcome!
When: Fri November 27 16:00 - 17:15

EGI Seminar - Dr Gabriele Sorci (Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France)

Gabriele Sorci will give a seminar on "Physiological and life history determinants of aging". D38. All welcome!
When: Fri December 11 16:00 - 17:15