DetailsName: Lucy Aplin
I graduated from the Australian National University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Laws (majoring in Environmental and International laws), a Bachelor of Science (Evolution and Ecology), and first class Honours in Zoology. My thesis investigated the evolution and ecology of sexual bill dimorphism in shorebirds. It involved both a comparative analysis of the shorebird order, and periods of isolated fieldwork studying the diet and breeding ecology of the sooty oystercatcher (H. fuliginosus), at sites on the southern coast of N.S.W. and on Montague Island (Aus). During my time at A.N.U. I also undertook a project studying nest-hole competition between threatened regent parrots and galahs, compared skull and tooth anatomy of feather-tailed gliders (Acrobates) to help reclassify its taxonomy (at the A.N.W.C.), and helped to trap marsupial mice (Antechinus spp.) as part of a C.S.I.R.O. project investigating the impact of fox control. However most of my spare time was taken working as a research assistant for the Evolutionary Ecology Group at A.N.U. (lab leader Prof. A. Cockburn), on their long-term study of the behavioural ecology of the cooperatively breeding superb fairy-wren (M. cyaneus) . This experience convinced me of the importance of long-term research projects, and I have now started my DPhil looking at the social ecology of great tits. I divide my time between Australia and the U.K., and am co-supervised by Prof. Ben Sheldon, Dr Julie Morand-Ferron and Prof. Andrew Cockburn.
I’m interested in the social context of learning and innovation. Once introduced into a population, behavioural innovations can rapidly spread via social learning, and are a potentially important source of behavioural plasticity with ecological and evolutionary implications, as well a possible source of culture and traditions. However the social dynamics associated with the diffusion of learnt behaviour remain poorly understood. Social network analysis, as a way of characterising individual interactions, relationships, and the social structure of populations, offers an opportunity to understand these processes. As part of the Prof. Ben Sheldon’s social networks group, my DPhil will investigate the transmission of information and learnt behaviour through social networks of great tits. I will be undertaking a combination of captive and wild experiments over the winter flocking period, utilising the long-term study population of great tits at Wytham Woods. I hope to be able to identify social learning in the wild in this species, and isolate the role of key individuals, individual variation and community structure on the diffusion of learnt behaviour.
SELECTED RECENT PAPERS
Aplin, L., Farine, D., Morand-Ferron, J., Sheldon, B. (2012) Social networks predict patch discovery in a wild population of songbirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279: 4199-4205.
Aplin, L. & Cockburn, A. (2012) Ecological selection and sexual dimorphism in the Sooty oystercatcher, Haematopus fulginosus. Austral Ecology 37: 248-257.
Aplin, L. (2009) Ecological Hypotheses for the Evolution of Sexual Bill Dimorphism in Shorebirds: The foraging ecology of the Sooty oystercatcher and a comparative analysis of the Charadriiformes. Unpublished Honours Thesis, Australian National University.