Professor Ben Sheldon

Research Interests

I have broad interests in evolution, ecology and behaviour, with a particular focus on understanding the causes and consequences of individual-level variation. My empirical work often uses wild bird populations as a model, particularly exploiting insights drawn from long-term population studies such as that of the great tit in Wytham Woods. My research group typically consists of several postdocs and associated fellows, and 5-6 graduate students. Current research themes include: (1) Social ecology of wild bird populations; (2) Adaptation and constraint in phenotypic plasticity; (3) Ecology and epidemiology of avian malaria; (4) Ecological genetics of life-history characters. We use a combination of field observations and experiments, quantitative and molecular genetic analysis, to understand these problems.

In the last decade our work has been funded by major grants from BBSRC, NERC and the ERC; the latter project ("Evolutionary Social Ecology") developed a new system for collecting very large-scale data on movements and association rates for thousands of individually-marked birds using a grid of automated detectors, and for understanding the determinants and effects of social structure in populations. My most recent NERC grants address (i) the effect of spatial, temporal and developmental constraints on adaptive plasticity, using phenological matching in the tri-trophic oak-winter moth-great tit system, and (ii) testing ecological effects on the diffusion of information in natural populations., while my most recent BBSRC grant tested mechanisms of social learning in wild birds.


Additional Information

In 2004 I was elected as the inaugural holder of the Luc Hoffmann Chair in Field Ornithology and appointed Director of the Edward Grey Institute, a research institute based within the Department of Zoology.

I have been Head of Department since October 2016.

Contact Details*

01865 (2) 81069



EGI website

*For any official Departmental business, please email

Selected Publications

Bosse, M., Spurgin, L.G., Laine, V.N., Gosler, A.G., Firth, J.A., Cole, E.F., McMahon, K., Gienapp, P., Verhagen, I., Poissant, J., Groenen, M.A.M, van Oers, K., Sheldon, B.C., Visser, M.E., Slate, J. 2017 Recent natural selection causes adaptive evolution of an avian polygenic trait.Science358, 365-368.

Aplin, L., Sheldon, B.C. & McElreath, R. 2017. Conformity does not perpetuate subpotimal traditions in a wild population of songbirds. PNAS114, 7830-7837.

Firth, J.A. & Sheldon, B.C. 2016. Social carry-over effects underpin trans-seasonally linked structure in a wild bird population. Ecology Letters19, 1324-1332.

Firth, J.A., Voelkl, B., Farine, D.R. & Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Experimental evidence that social relationships shape individual foraging behaviour. Current Biology 25, 3138-3143.

Hinks, A.E., Cole, E.F., Fannon, K., Wilkin, T.A., Nakagawa, S. & Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Scale-dependent phenological synchrony between songbirds and their caterpillar food source. Amer. Nat. 186, 84-97.

Aplin, L.M., Farine, D.R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cockburn, A., Thornton, A. & Sheldon, B.C. 2015. Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent culture via conformity in wild birds. Nature 518, 538-541.

Vedder, O., Bouwhuis, S. & Sheldon, B.C. 2013. Quantitative assessment of the importance of phenotypic plasticity in adaptation to climate change in wild bird populations. PLOS Biology 11, e1001605.

Clutton-Brock, T.H. & Sheldon, B.C. 2010. Individuals and populations: the role of long-term, individual-based studies in ecology and evolutionary biology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution25, 562-573.

List of site pages