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Personal profile

Research Interests

Summary:

I study the evolution of group living. I am interested in understanding how animals have evolved to reap the benefits of living, feeding, and breeding in groups while minimising the inevitable costs of competing with group members for limited resources. I primarily use group living spiders as my model organisms, although I have worked on a range of organisms, including ants, wasps, horses and monkeys.

Group living is only found in a small number of spider species. Some spider species are cooperative breeders, comparable to social groups of lions or primates. Other spider species are communal meaning that they live in groups but maintain solitary territories within the group. Spider groups can be formed by hundreds or thousands of individuals, and are mainly found in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Within these magnificent groups, spiders show a range of fascinating behaviours such as hunting together, sharing food, building their silken nest together, and helping to protect and feed each other’s young.

Spiders are fantastic to work with. They are charismatic, they offer large sample sizes, and spider colonies are easy to capture, transport and manipulate. Spiders can further be kept solitarily or in groups to estimate costs and benefits of group living.

 

PGR students: 

As 1st supervisor: 

  • Amanda Bartlett, PhD candidate
  • Madeline Walker, MRes student
  • Snata Chakraborty, PhD candidate
  • Thomas Roberts-McEwen, PhD candidate 
  • AJ Fleming: Awarded PhD in January 2024

As co-supervisor: 

  • Bidemi Green-Ojo, PhD candidate

 

Examples of research directions:

CoopAs first supervisor: erative breeding and helping behaviour

Many social animals cooperate in brood care, helping to feed and protect other group members’ young. I am interested in identifying adaptations to cooperative breeding.

For example, I investigated maternal effects in several social and non-social spider species by collecting, counting and measuring the size of eggs within egg sacs. I found that social spiders laid fewer, larger eggs than their non-social counterparts (doi: 10.1111/evo.12411). This suggests that social species have adapted to group living by investing in quality over quantity of young due to competition for limited resources within groups, and due to the benefits of shared maternal care such as better growth and survival of young.

In a different project I investigated how paper wasps in Spain chose their social partners. I found that helpers’ social decisions may be influenced by a biological market where the supply and demand for helping behaviour determines how much help they are willing to provide (doi: 10.1038/ncomms13750; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0904).

Adoption of foreign offspring

In animals, mothers typically care for others’ young in two different cases: In social, cooperatively breeding societies or in cases where mothers are being manipulated by brood parasites to care for parasitic young. Brood adoption is exceedingly rare outside of these types of systems. Hence, it was highly intriguing when I discovered brood adoption within mixed-species Chikunia spider colonies on Bali, Indonesia. Here, I found two sister-species living together in colonies (doi: 10.1007/s00114-012-0983-4). One of the two species was new to science and I recently described and named it (doi: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zly083). I am interested in several questions within this system relating to the interactions between the two species; whether females adopt offspring both within and between species; and how groups form.

Group foraging

Many animals forage in groups. Group foraging can be more or less cooperative, ranging from foraging flocks of birds wherein individuals show little direct interaction, to highly cooperative group hunting as seen in lions. I revisit and extend upon classic foraging theories such as risk-sensitive foraging theory and the central limit theorem (doi: 10.1111/evo.13826) and the hypothesis that group hunting allows for the capture of larger prey (doi: 10.1007/s00427-019-00640-w). In both examples I have provided new theoretical frameworks, supported by data on spider foraging, to better understand the selection pressures shaping group foraging in a range of group living organisms.

 

Research collaborations:

External collaborations: 

  • Sara Goodacre, University of Nottingham, UK
  • Yann Bourgeois, IRD, France 
  • Yael Lubin, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
  • Manuel Jimenez Tenorio, Cadiz University, Spain
  • Trine Bilde, Aarhus University, Denmark
  • Anom Bowolaksono, University of Indonesia, Indonesia
  • Ni Luh Watiniasih, Udayana University, Indonesia
  • Monica Mowery, The City University of New York, USA
  • Angela Chuang, Clemson University, USA
  • Maydianne Andrade, University of Toronto, USA
  • Marianne Freeman, Sparsholt, UK 
  • Alan Stewart, University of Sussex, UK

Internal collaborations: 

  • Jodi Burkett, History
  • Bhavin Dedhia, Dentistry
  • Catherine Murgatroyd, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Leanne Proops, Psychology
  • Marine Joly, Psychology
  • Teresa Romero, Psychology
  • Katherine Williams, Biological Sciences
  • Alex Ford, Marine Biology

Biography

  • Senior Lecturer in Zoology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth, UK, 2020-present
    • Chair of the Faculty Staff Network for Mental Health First Aiders 
    • School Lead for Mental Health, Wellbeing and Culture
    • Member of the School EDI Committee
    • Member of the University AWERB Committee
    • Member of the Ecology and Evolution Research Group
    • Member of Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology
  • Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, UK, 2017-2020                
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, UK, 2013-2016
  • PhD in Evolutionary Biology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark, 2010-2013
  • MSc in Biology, Centre for Social Evolution, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 2006-2009
  • BSc in Biology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 2003-2006*
  • *Included a study abroad for my BSc thesis at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia, 2006   

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 2 - Zero Hunger
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land

Keywords

  • QL Zoology
  • Spiders
  • Insects
  • Arthropods
  • Invertebrates
  • QH301 Biology
  • Evolution
  • Animal behaviour
  • Ecology
  • Sociality
  • Group living
  • Cooperation
  • Group foraging
  • Maternal care

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