Social Behaviour

A major recent theme of behavioural research in the EGI relates to social behaviour. This has built upon recent work by John Quinn, Ben Sheldon and colleagues on the causes and consequences of behavioural syndromes in birds.

Current work, funded by a major grant from the European Research Council to Ben Sheldon aims to understand the biological basis of a broad range of social behaviour in wild tit populations, ranging from the dynamics of partner choice to the structure of social networks and the consequences of this structure for information flow, disease transmission, and genetic structure in the population.

Much of this data is collected using automated data-logging stations that detect RFID-tagged birds throughout the winter. This generates very rich datasets, involving millions of records of thousands of individuals.

Social network from Great Tits in Wytham WoodsFigure: Example social network from Great Tits in Wytham Woods in 2011-12. The network comprises NNN individuals, and reveals marked structure in the social network in the population. Current questions we are addressing with these data include: (i) Why are some individuals highly central and others very peripheral? (ii) How does the structure arise: is it deterministic or stochastic? (iii) How robust is this structure to perturbation? (iv) What consequences does this structure have for population-wide processes?