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Two Open Programme grants for Behavioural Ecology and Self Organisation

30 January 2014

Two Open Programme grants in the Earth and Life Sciences programme (ALW) have been awarded to two researchers at the Behavioural Ecology and Self Organisation group of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies. In this Open Programme round the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded nine grants in total.

Prof. Jan Komdeur

Trans-generational impacts on senescence: quantitative genetics of cellular and organismal senescence in the wild

Individuals of the same chronological age vary greatly in their rate of biological aging. Yet, we know surprisingly little about the inheritance of biological aging or how parental state influences offspring aging/senescence (time-related deterioration of the functions of organisms necessary for survival and fertility) and, in turn, population fitness and adaptive potential. Recent studies have shown how ?parental effects? (e.g. maternal effects or epigenetic inheritance) are common and can be substantial, but their impact on aging has not been explored. We propose to integrate approaches from cell biology and quantitative genetics into an ecological setting to investigate the strength and impact of trans-generational factors on biological aging phenotypes ? and their consequences for organismal aging and fitness in the wild. We will explore how variation in the rate of biological aging (mitochondrial number and telomere length) is explained by ?genetic quality? (additive genetic variance) and parental state (parental effects), and how selection acts upon these traits over multiple generations in wild Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis) ? an ideal model for this purpose. The research outcomes will help identify the effect of parents on the lives of their offspring, and understand the extraordinary variation in longevity and aging rates observed between and within species in nature. They will also allow us to understand the fundamental factors shaping the evolution of senescence. The results will contribute significantly to understanding the role of parental age on offspring fitness, with potential significance for human reproductive strategies and for animal husbandry in agriculture and conservation biology.

Prof. Charlotte Hemelrijk

Optimisation of navigation for intercepting prey during aerial hunting by birds.

How an aerial predator navigates to intercept its prey is essential to its success. Recently, the Oxford Animal Flight Group revealed that 'proportional navigation' was the guidance system that best describes the tracking of prey by a Peregrine falcon (1). This implies that the velocity vector of the predator rotates at a rate proportional to the rotation rate of the line of sight to the prey, and in the same direction. It is unclear however how such guidance strategy has been optimised during evolution. When humans apply this guidance for missiles, they adjust its parameter of proportionality depending on speed and manoeuvrability of the target. Our aim is to investigate optimisation in raptors with the help of a computational model that integrates both function and mechanism (2).
The model incorporates flight mechanics, hunting behaviour (diving and level pursuit) and guidance of the aerial predator following empirical data. In it, we optimise the predator's catch rate in different ways via genetic algorithms. We aim to:
1) Gain insight whether evolution has optimised the guidance of the raptor for hunting as a specialist or as generalist.
2) Investigate the robustness of the optimised prey-targeting system in relation to the behaviour of the prey, whether it is unwary or trying to escape, it is flying solitarily or is flocking
3) Elucidate the effects on the optimisation of pursuit-evasion tactics, behavioural delays, flight control, biomechanics and the prey-targeting
4) Generate predictions and verify them in real raptors in cooperation with the Oxford Flight Group.

Last modified:01 February 2017 12.45 a.m.
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