The Green Group is interested in the factors shaping the evolution and expression of social behaviours. We study both the processes shaping cooperative and competitive traits over evolutionary timescales and the information-gathering and decision-making processes guiding social interactions. Currently, our research focuses on the following questions:
1) What are the factors shaping the expression of competitive traits in females?
While competition among males for mating opportunities has attracted much interest, relatively little is known about the evolutionary processes shaping competition among females. We are therefore currently exploring trade-offs between female investment in competition and investment in reproduction and maternal care using experimental manipulation of competition within breeding groups of the cichlid Lamprologus ocellatus.
At the same time, we are interested in explaining the striking sex differences in levels of aggression that we observe across a wide range of taxa. Together with Ellie Bath and Jen Perry (at the University of East Anglia), we are carrying out comparative analyses to determine the role of sex differences in sexual selection and population structure on the evolution of sex-specific aggressive behaviour.
2) What information do individuals gather about competitors and how does this information guide decision-making during competitive interactions?
In simple dyadic fights, animals may often make decisions about whether to persevere or withdraw based on information about their own performance or strength and that of their rival. Through modelling and behavioural experiments on cichlids and arthropods, we aim to extend our knowledge of the assessment strategies employed by animals during fights in a number of important directions, including:
a) Do assessment strategies vary across an individual’s lifetime according to resource need? With Ellie Bath we are exploring the effect of mating on assessment strategies in female fruit flies.
b) What information do individuals gather in triadic fights and how does this affect the dynamics of these more complex interactions?
3) How does the social environment affect selection on lifespan and ageing?
In collaboration with Ben Hatchwell at the University of Sheffield we are exploring age-related changes in accrual of direct and indirect fitness in cooperatively-breeding birds. We also aim to develop new theory that explores how helping and harming across generations shape the evolution of lifespan and ageing in social species.
4) What factors shape maternal investment decisions in cooperative species?
In collaboration with Jane Hurst and colleagues at the University of Liverpool, we are characterising how female house mice allocate investment to individual pups within communal nests and the sensitivity of these investment decisions to kinship between nesting females and other aspects of the social environment.