BEHAVIOURAL ECOLOGY

The Evolution of Mating Systems

 

One of the fundamental goals of behavioural ecology is to understand the evolution of mating systems. Mating system research is of critical importance – since natural selection shapes all aspects of an individual’s behaviour to maximize its genetic contribution to the next generation, mating system research concerns the evolution of behaviours that are directly associated with an individual’s ultimate goal. We use a range of fish species as model systems to test key hypotheses of mating system evolution, to evaluate how and why individuals reproduce in a certain way.

 

 

The Evolution of Sociality

 

One of the most startling features of animal societies is the presence of non-breeding group members. Non-breeding or delayed breeding strategies are intriguing because it is not immediately apparent how natural selection can preserve the genes that underlie them. Using a range of fish species, we try to understand why sociality occurs, why it can vary so considerably between closely related species, and the causes and consequences of variation in group traits like group size.

 

 

Conflict and Cooperation in Groups

 

Although sociality brings about significant benefits, group living generates conflicts of interest between group members as they compete over limiting resources. In many societies, this conflict results in the formation of dominance hierarchies as a means of reducing costs of resource division, however, the very formation of hierarchies induces individuals to compete over status. Using fish as model systems, we aim to address the challenge of explaining the existence and stability of societies by investigating the factors that resolve conflicts and promote cooperation between group members over time.

 

 

Animal Contests and Community Structure

 

Animal contests are a topic of great intellectual scrutiny in terms of understanding contest dynamics, predictors and outcomes. Even so, the impact of animal contests on community structure is poorly understood, given the paucity of studies that have applied contest theory to investigate inter- rather than intra-specific contests. To address this gap, we use fish communities as model systems to investigate the link between contests and community structure. Applying contest theory can therefore help us to explain how habitat is partitioned, how the species coexist, and ultimately, what processes structure communities and assemblages.