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 affiliations

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. I am also the Senior User Representative for Life and Mind Building.

Graduate Students
Contact Details

01865 (2) 81069

PA:; +44 (0)1865 271275