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Evolutionary ecology

Komdeur group - People
Group outing April 11, 2019
Group outing April 11, 2019

PhD students

Wenxia Wang
Wenxia Wang

(October 2019), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur and Hua Wu (Central China Normal University)

Evolution of parental care and communal breeding

The area I’m focusing on is the reproductive behaviour of animals, especially on parental care. I conduct studies on the evolution of parental care and communal breeding with the burying beetles (Silphidae, Nicrophorus) by using field experiments and molecular techniques. The main aim of my research is to investigate whether dominant individuals adjust their parental care behaviour based on the subordinates’ intrinsic state (e.g. body size, condition, health). I will investigate whether cooperating parents adjust their amount of care to the amount of subordinates' care. I will also investigate whether the individuals that provide care longer have more offspring.

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Mirjam Borger
Mirjam Borger

(March 2019 - present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur with Franjo Weissing (TRES) and David Richardson (University of East Anglia)

A first realistic quantitative test of sex ratio modification theory in a wild population

During my PhD, I study the evolution of sex ratio modification. I try to understand why parents change the sex ratio of their offspring and why there is variation between individuals (i.e., why does not everyone produce a 50/50 sex ratio for example?). I study this in the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis), which produces extremely skewed sex ratios under certain circumstances. I will make models to predict under what circumstances it is more beneficial to produce either sons or daughters. Subsequently, I will test if real-life individuals change their offspring sex ratio according to our models, and we will test the long-term fitness benefits of sex-ratio modification behaviour.

  • Trivers RL, Willard DE (1973). Natural selection of parental ability to vary the sex ratio of offspring. Science 179: 90-92 [pdf]
  • Komdeur J, Daan S, Tinbergen J, Mateman C (1997). Extreme adaptive modification in sex ratio of the Seychelles warbler’s eggs. Nature 385: 522–525 [pdf]
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Jia Zheng
Jia Zheng

(November 2018 - present), supervised by Jan Komdeur and Franjo Weissing (TRES)

Implications of sexual conflict and sexual selection on diversification and speciation - Penduline tits as a model system of breeding system evolution

I'm studying the evolution of parental care strategy and adaptive breeding behaviour in Chinese penduline tits (Remiz consobrinus). The PhD project is aiming at revealing why divergent parental care patterns exist in two populations with heterogeneous habitats. I’ll also focus on investigating the evolutionary implications of unique breeding behaviours in Chinese penduline tits. I will conduct field studies in Northeast China from May to August each year, in addition to theoretical simulations to study the evolutionary process of parental care.

  • Zheng J, Li D, Zhang Z (2018). Breeding biology and parental care strategy of the little-known Chinese Penduline Tit (Remiz consobrinus). Journal of Ornithology 159(3): 657-666, doi: 10.1007/s10336-018-1553-0
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Tara Cox
Tara Cox

(2018 - present), joint PhD student at the universities of Leeds (UK) and Groningen, supervised by Terry Burke (U Leeds) and Jan Komdeur (U Groningen)

Causes and consequences of animal personalities in the Seychelles warbler

I am a PhD student at the University of Leeds researching the behavioural and evolutionary ecology of the Seychelles warbler. More specifically, I am studying their ‘animal personalities’, a term used to describe consistent between individual variation in behavioural traits. A large body of research has demonstrated the prevalence of animal personalities across many taxa, including the Seychelles warbler. However, our understanding of the origins of animal personalities, as well as their implications on life-history strategies, remains limited.

For animal personalities to evolve, they must have a fitness benefit and a genetic basis. I will explore whether there are fitness implications related to possessing different personality traits, particularly reproductive success and survival. In addition, I will use molecular analyses, including genomic methods, to determine the genetic underpinning of between individual variation in behavioural traits. I further aim to explore whether animal personalities play a role variation of life history strategies, including an individual’s propensity to disperse from their natal site or exhibit helping behaviour in their natal territory.

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Stephen Salazar
Stephen Salazar

(October 2017 - present) PhD student at Bielefeld University (Germany) and the University of Groningen, supervised by Peter Korsten (main; Bielefeld Uni) and Jan Komdeur (Uni Groningen)

The costs and benefits of individual variation in behaviour

Even within the same population, individuals differ markedly from one another in their behaviour. Although there is now overwhelming evidence for the wide-spread occurrence of such between-individual variation in behaviour, its evolutionary origin and maintenance remain largely unclear. I am interested in whether, and if so, how, individual variation in an ecologically relevant behaviour, territorial aggression, may mediate trade-offs among a suite of fitness-related traits in a wild population of a common bird species, the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus). The study site is located ca.12 km south of the city of Groningen in the Netherlands. Aggression is a key social behaviour expressed to monopolize vital resources such as food, territories and mates. It also bears severe costs such as high energy expenditure, injury or even death. I am specifically interested in how between-individual variation in male territorial aggressiveness may relate to variation in the quality of a male’s breeding territory, its siring success, its proneness to take risks, and its investment in parental care.

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Lisheng Zhang
Lisheng Zhang

(September 2017 - present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur, Franjo Weissing (TRES) & Tamas Szekely (University of Bath, UK)

Implications of adult sex ratios on sexual dimorphism and sex roles

Adult sex ratio (ASR, the proportion of males in a population) is a central concept of population demography and a key factor of evolution under sexual selection. ASR can affect many ecological and evolutional processes. In our project, we use the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus as a model organism to test the implications of ASR on parental care, sex dimorphism, sexual selection, population dynamics and variation in personalities. In addition, we are also interested in brood protection, nesting strategy choice and mechanisms of transgenerational transport in this species.

  • Székely, T., Weissing, F. J., & Komdeur, J. (2014). Adult sex ratio variation: implications for breeding system evolution. Journal of evolutionary biology, 27(8), 1500-1512. https://doi.org/10.1111/jeb.12415
  • Rosa, M. E., Barta, Z., Fülöp, A., Székely, T., & Kosztolányi, A. (2017). The effects of adult sex ratio and density on parental care in Lethrus apterus (Coleoptera, Geotrupidae). Animal Behaviour, 132, 181-188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.07.023
Dung beetle
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Martje Birker
Martje Birker

(July 2017 – present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur, Ton Groothuis (EGDB) and Rodrigo Vásquez (Universidad de Chile)

Do parental effects mediate adaptation to climate differences? - A study in a bird species breeding at different latitudes

I study behavioural and physiological parental effects as mechanisms to adapt to climatic extremes. More specifically, I focus on parental breeding behaviour and differential allocation of maternal yolk hormones in a small passerine bird of Chile. The thorn-tailed rayadito (Aphrastura spinicauda) has an extreme latitudinal and altitudinal distribution. It is a sedentary bird breeding from the limits of the hottest and driest desert of the world, the Atacama desert, to cold and stormy sub-Antarctic Patagonia. I compare the bi-parental incubation behaviour and yolk thyroid hormones between populations, and test their adaptive potential experimentally.

  • Altamirano TA, Ibarra JT, de la Maza M, Navarrete SA, Bonacic C (2015). Reproductive life-history variation in a secondary cavity-nester across an elevational gradient in Andean temperate ecosystems. The Auk 132(4): 826–835, doi: 10.1642/auk-15-28.1
  • Wang AJM, Beissinger SR (2011). Partial incubation in birds: Its occurrence, function, and quantification, The Auk 128(3): 454–466, doi: 10.1525/auk.2011.10208
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Giorgio Karapetsas
Giorgio Karapetsas

(May 2017 – present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur and Gertjan van Dijk (GELIFES, University of Groningen)

Effects of housing conditions and early life environmental effects (dietary lipid quantity and quality) on behaviour and metabolic health in mice

To study early life environmental effects on behaviour and metabolic health the use of rodent models is essential. Rodents are social species that live in groups in the nature to increase the chances of survival by lowering predation risk and reducing energy costs via social thermoregulation. However, rodents are usually housed individually in laboratory studies for easy assessment of individual metabolic, physiological and behavioural parameters. Individual housing in laboratory rodents can profoundly affect energy balance regulation and behaviour when compared to rodents housed socially. In my project, I focus on studying the effects that housing conditions can have on metabolic health and behaviour in C57BL/6J mice. Furthermore, I also study the effects of maternal and postnatal dietary lipid quality and quality and how this influence sustainable metabolic health and behaviour in C57BL/6J mice offspring.

Schipper L, Harvey L, van der Beek EM, van Dijk G (2018). Home alone: a systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of individual housing on body weight, food intake and visceral fat mass in rodents. Obesity Reviews 19(5): 614-637, doi: 10.1111/obr.12663

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Sajad Farahani
Sajad Farahani

(April 2017 - present), supervised by Jan Komdeur (1st promotor) and Per Palsboll (2nd promotor)

The effects of parasite manipulation on the behaviour of native and invasive intermediate hosts

The acanthocephalan parasite,Polymorphus minutus, appears capable of altering the behaviour of its intermediate hosts (gammarids) in a manner that enhances their transmission to the final host, water fowl or mammals. Previous studies have demonstrated that parasites decrease non-host predator exposure (Friman e.a. 2009), increase salinity tolerance (Piscart et al., 2007) and change rheotaxis behaviour (Wellnitz et al. 2003) by manipulating their intermediate host’s behaviour. The aim of the present study is to assess whether modulation of the host’s behaviour by P. minutus is specific to sympatric gammarids or to gammarids in general. Intermediate hosts in my experiments, the native gammarids Gammarus pulex and Gammarus fossarum, are abundant in Central European upper and middle freshwater tributaries. In contrast, the gammarid Echinogammarus berilloni is native to the Atlantic regions of France and Spain, but is an invasive species in Western and Central Europe.

  • Friman VP, Lindstedt C, Hiltunen T, Laakso J, Mappes J (2009). Predation on multiple trophic levels shapes the evolution of pathogen virulence. PLoS ONE 4: 8–13, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006761
  • Piscart C, Webb D, Beisel JN (2007). An acanthocephalan parasite increases the salinity tolerance of the freshwater amphipod Gammarus roeseli (Crustacea: Gammaridae). Naturwissenschaften 94: 741–747, doi: 10.1007/s00114-007-0252-0
  • Wellnitz T, Giari L, Maynard B, Dezfuli BS (2003). A parasite spatially structures its host population. Oikos 100(2): 263–268, doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0706.2003.12153.x
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Xiaoyan Long
Xiaoyan Long

(September 2016 - present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur with Franjo Weissing (TRES) and Tamas Szekely (University of Bath)

The evolution of sex-specific parental roles

I have a very strong interest in the mechanism of evolution of parental roles. Why do males and females of various species contribute differently to parental care? Theoretical researchers propose that sexual selection, sex ratio and extra-pair paternity (EPP) play key roles in the evolution of parental care. However, theoretical arguments are difficult to judge, since they tend to be based on the sophisticated (and error-prone) analysis of an abstract fitness function. In addition, they neglect the possibility of individual variation and the ability of organisms to make their parental behaviour dependent on their own state and on environmental conditions. Therefore, I am studying the joint evolution of parental sex roles and sexual selection, various sex ratios and EPP in an individual-based simulation model to clarify how individual decisions influence the process of evolution.

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Long Ma
Long Ma

(November 2015 - present), supervised by Jan Komdeur (promoter) and Sjouke Kingma (co-promoter; Wageningen University & Research)

Eco-evolutionary routes to sociality in insects - Behavioural ecology and chemical communication of communal breeding in burying beetles

In social animals, cooperation between group members evolves to benefit individuals living in groups. However, cooperation between individuals may generate kin-selected benefits, but also direct benefits through either reciprocity or mutualism. During my PhD, I study the eco-evolutionary mechanisms by which unrelated individuals cooperate in response to ecological constraints and social interactions in the communally breeding burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. Firstly, I will carry out fieldwork and laboratory work to study the proximate causes, and the direct or indirect benefits of communal breeding. Secondly, I will study whether and how dominants exert control over subordinates: via behaviourally or physiologically-driven reproductive suppression during communal breeding (in collaboration with Dr Kilner, University of Cambridge, UK). Thirdly, I will investigate the chemical signals and their behavioural roles in the social evolution of cooperation (in collaboration with Dr Steiger, University of Bayreuth, Germany). My project will try to elucidate the underlying eco-evolutionary routes to cooperative behaviour and sociality in social species.

  • Komdeur J, Schrama MJ, Meijer K, Moore AJ, Beukeboom LW (2013). Cobreeding in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides: Tolerance rather than cooperation. Ethology 119: 1138-1148, doi: 10.1111/eth.12174
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Sara Raj Pant
Sara Raj Pant

(October 2015 - present), joint PhD student at the universities of East Anglia (UK) and Groningen, supervised by David Richardson (U East Anglia), Hannah Dugdale (U Leeds) and Jan Komdeur (U Groningen)

The evolutionary forces underlying extra-pair paternity in the Seychelles warbler

My research interests lie within the fields of behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation. In particular, I am interested in the evolution of animal societies, cooperative breeding and other mating strategies. During my PhD, I aim to uncover the evolutionary drivers of extra-pair paternity, a strategy which is widespread across socially monogamous taxa, yet enigmatic from an evolutionary perspective. The Seychelles warbler provides an excellent study system, as this passerine is socially monogamous yet genetically promiscuous (ca. 44% of all offspring are extra-pair). I aim to detect social and environmental factors, as well as individual parameters (such as age) which may influence extra-pair reproduction in this species. Further, I aim to estimate heritability of extra-pair reproduction and its potential genetic correlations with traits under positive selection in males and/or females. These investigations will enable me to unravel the environmental and genetic basis of extra-pair paternity, shedding light on the evolution of this behaviour in a cooperatively breeding species. As extra-pair paternity and cooperative breeding are widespread phenomena, the results may improve our understanding of gene flow across different animal societies, including our own.

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Qintian Zhao
Qintian Zhao

(September 2014 – present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur and Xin Lu (Wuhan University)

A test of the adaptive benefits of cooperatively breeding ground tits

I am a PhD student investigating the evolution of cooperative breeding in ground tits (Parus humilis). This is one of the first research projects in China that addresses the evolution of cooperative breeding. My study species is a cooperatively breeding passerine endemic to the Tibet plateau, an area characterized by high altitude and harsh climate. My aims are to investigate (i) whether helpers have an active preference for cooperating with kin; (ii) whether other factors (e.g. ,helper age, breeding group size) affect food provisioning to chicks and (iii) what are the long-term fitness benefits of helping behaviour for both helpers and breeders.

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Michela Busana
Michela Busana

PhD student (2013 - present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur, Hannah Dugdale (University of Leeds, UK), & Franjo Weissing (TRES)

Drivers of fitness and population dynamics in the Seychelles warblers

I investigate the interplay of social evolution and population dynamics in Seychelles warblers, passerine birds with facultative cooperative breeding where some breeders receive help from other individuals when raising offspring. More specifically, I am interested in understanding the interplay between individual traits and life-history events with its social and non-social environment. To what extent does this interaction affect individual fitness in the Seychelles warblers?

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Reinaldo Marfull
Reinaldo Marfull Castro

PhD student (2013 - present), jointly supervised by Jan Komdeur and Peter Korsten (University of Bielefeld, Germany)

Causes and consequences of sibling competition in the family - A study on blue tits

In my thesis, I investigate the factors that influence the level of sibling competition and their fitness consequences on offspring in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus), a common passerine. In this context, I am particularly interested in offspring begging behaviour, given its pivotal role in sib-sib and parent-offspring interactions. Blue tits are a perfect model to study the adaptive role of begging behaviour both in real-life in controlled circumstances, as well as in experimental and observational conditions. I wonder to what extent parental behaviour may influence the level of sibling competition, whether and how the level of sibling competition influences begging behaviour, how and what aspects of the multiple-component begging behaviour (i.e. a combination of acoustic and visual signals) affect parent-offspring communication and if so, what the consequences are for offspring fitness.

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Postdocs

Janske van de Crommenacker
Janske van de Crommenacker

(2018 - present)

I've been part of the Komdeur team for quite a while: first, from 2006-2011 as a PhD student investigating oxidative stress and physiology in the Seychelles warbler, and now - after having worked for a number of years as conservation manager in the Seychelles - I'm back in a postdoc position investigating relationships between early-life conditions and future phenotype, behaviour and fitness. For this study, the multi-faceted and long-term database on the Seychelles warbler again proves its value. I use telomere length as a marker of biological impact, which actually relates to my interest for combining physiology with ecology, and the theme of ageing, telomeres and oxidative stress.

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Alexandra Sparks
Alexandra Sparks

(2018 - present)

Within wild populations, there is considerable variation in the onset and rate that individuals senesce (or deteriorate with age), but the causes of this variation remain poorly understood. The long-term Seychelles warbler dataset offers a fantastic opportunity to investigate how genetic, social, transgenerational and environmental factors interact to generate individual variation in ageing patterns. I am particularly interested in using genomic data and quantitative genetic analyses to investigate the genetic basis of senescence in the wild, and investigate how genetic variation in ageing rates is maintained in the face of natural selection. I am also interested in how early life conditions and life history decisions influence ageing patterns in later life.

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Lei Lv
Lei Lv

(2017 - present)

I am an evolutionary ecologist primarily interested in how birds respond to different environmental or social conditions. From 2013 to 2016, I did my joint PhD on the context-dependent breeding strategy of hair-crested drongos supervised by Prof. Jan Komdeur and Prof. Zhengwang Zhang (Beijing Normal University). After that, I started a postdoc with two separate projects. In collaboration with Jan and Zhengwang, the first project investigates the trade-off between parental care and pursuing extra-pair matings for male hair-crested drongos. We test whether a mating pattern of high-quality males who have a higher chance of gaining extra-pair matings pairing with females who could provide more parental care as compensation of reduced parental care of their partners facilitates the occurrence of this trade-off. The second project is in collaboration with Prof. Loeske Kruuk, Prof. Andrew Cockburn (Australian National University) and Dr. Yang Liu (Sun Yat-sen University) to test how climate influences the breeding phenology and mortality of superb fairy-wrens, and whether climate plays a role in the population declining process.

  • Lv L, Li J, Kingma SA, Gao C, Wang Y, Komdeur J, Zhang Z (2018). Do hair-crested drongos reduce prospective territory competition by dismantling their nest after breeding? Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 72(1): 12, doi: 10.1007/s00265-017-2422-1
  • Lv L, Komdeur J, Li J, Scheiber IB, Zhang Z (2016). Breeding experience, but not mate retention, determines the breeding performance in a passerine bird. Behavioral ecology 27(4): 1255-1262, doi: 10.1093/beheco/arw046

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Martijn Hammers
Martijn Hammers

(Visiting research fellow)

My research centres around the ecology and evolution of ageing, social environments and life-history strategies, and biodiversity conservation. I use birds and insects as model systems and combine lab work with experimental and observational approaches.

Currently I hold a VENI fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and study how cooperation between individuals within families may lead to delayed ageing and lifespan extension in the Seychelles warbler. I also study how ageing may promote social behaviour.

  • Hammers M, Kingma SA, Spurgin LG, Bebbington K, Dugdale HL, Burke T, Komdeur J, Richardson DS (2019). Breeders that receive help age more slowly in a cooperatively breeding bird. Nature Communications 10: 1301, doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-09229-3
  • Hammers M, Kingma SA, Bebbington K, van de Crommenacker J, Spurgin LG, Richardson DS, Burke T, Dugdale HL, Komdeur J (2015). Senescence in the wild: Insights from a long-term study on Seychelles warblers. Experimental Gerontology 71: 69-79, doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2015.08.019

Media coverage:
https://theconversation.com/female-warblers-live-longer-when-they-have-help-raising-offspring-115332
https://www.ukrant.nl/magazine/samenwerken-in-het-paradijs/?lang=en

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Support staff

Joyce Rietveld
Joyce Rietveld

(Secretary)

I have been a secretary at the University of Groningen in a number of departments since 1989. Currently I work for the Conservation Ecology Group (Conseco) and the Behavioural and Physiological Ecology Group (BPE).

I am in the office (0572) of the 5th floor of the Linnaeusborg on four days per week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday).

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Maaike Versteegh
Maaike Versteegh

(Research assistant)

I am working as a research assistant in the Komdeur group and the Tieleman group. I am responsible for the ecological immunology lab. In the lab we do a wide array of assays to describe the immune system of birds (e.g. haemagglutination/hemolysis assay, IgY’s, ovotransferrin, haptoglobin concentrations). I am also involved in fieldwork and statistical assistance.

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Marco van der Velde
Marco van der Velde

(Research technician)

I am a research technician for the research institute GELIFES (formerly CEES) since 2004. For the Komdeur group I run the DNA lab, and assist post-docs, PhD- and master students with their molecular labwork. We do mainly microsatellite genotyping and molecular sexing of birds, but more recently also some ddRAD/NGS and gene expression work. The main species I am working on are the Blue tit and the Seychelles warbler for which we keep long-term genetic pedigrees, but I am also involved in projects on burying beetles, Chinese penduline tits, Hair-crested drongos and Thorn-tailed rayaditos.

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MSc students

Jana Riederer

(Ongoing)
tba

Deborah Sallé

(Ongoing)
tba

Rahal Sarah Schnell

(Ongoing)
The effects of adult sex ratio on parental investment and parentage in burying beetles

Joseph Churchill

(Ongoing)
Inter-populational differences in nestling and adult hematocrit

Samyuktha Rajan

(Ongoing)
Limited scope for extra-pair paternity in harsh environments

Zimai Li

(Ongoing)
The effects of experimentally elevated egg thyroid hormones on nestling thermoregulation

Frigg Speelman

(Ongoing)
Behavioural responses of barnacle geese to human disturbance and effects on breeding success

Nynke Wemer

(Ongoing)
The fitness consequences of aggressiveness in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus)

Emiel Zuidema

(Ongoing)
Evolution of parental care strategies in Chinese penduline tits

Maaike van Bodegom

(Ongoing)
Influence of parental condition on parental care in handicapped hair-crested drongos

Josefien Tankink

(Ongoing)
Social interactions as a function of the Adult Sex Ratio in Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi)

Amber Bullock

(ongoing)
tba

Paula Escriche Chova

(2019)
Effects of housing conditions on anxiety-like and exploratory behaviour in C57BL6/J male mice

Chiara Cardinali

(2019)
Effects of housing conditions on energy balance in C57BL6/J male mice

Kasper Hlebowicz

(2019)
Tough choices - fecundity‚Äísurvival trade-off in blue tits in the context of risk-taking during parental care

Toni Hoenders

(2019)
Postponement of full incubation onset at lower latitudes in a bird breeding in climatic extremes

Lisa Rose Haaksma

(2019)
Interpopulational differences in nestling provisioning in a bird breeding in climatic extremes

Denise Roffel

(2019)
Non-kin benefits of cooperation in communally breeding burying beetles

Manon Spaans

(2019)
Implications of adult sex ratio on dispersal in a dung beetle meta population system

Katia Bougiouri

(2019)
Mito-jay-nomics - A comparitive analysis of corvids using sex novel jay mitochandrial genomes

Mathilde Legoguelin

(2019)
Evolution of parental care strategies in Chinese penduline tits

Arne van Eerden

(2018)
Food, predation and attractive neighbours - Nest-site selection and nest survival in the Seychelles Warbler

Julia Camacho Garcia

(2018)
Male territorial aggressiveness and paternity in a wild population of blue tits

Mirjam Borger

(2018)
The effects of status signals and juveniles on territorial defence in the black-crested titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus)

Last modified:03 October 2019 4.14 p.m.