Life-history strategies and effects of early conditions on phenotypic development and on deterioration in later life; long and short term resource allocation trade-offs; mainly birds, with related work on other taxa, including fish and amphibia.
My current research focus is broadly in behavioural and evolutionary ecology. The emphasis is on the responses of individuals to changing environmental conditions and the proximate factors influencing these responses. At present, I am particularly interested in growth, reproductive performance and senescence, and associated life history trade-offs. I have a number of projects examining the long term consequences of conditions in early life. My research group works on wild and captive populations of birds since these offer excellent opportunities for testing a number of theoretical predictions in this area. We also work on other taxonomic groups. Recent work has focused resource allocation and developmental trade-offs, and the mechanisms that underpin organismal level consequences over various timescales.
These projects are multidisciplinary, and involve collaborations with molecular biologists, endocrinologists and physiologists, and we study mechanisms such as hormonal factors, telomere loss and oxidative damage.
Our work involves a combination of experimental and correlative studies is the field and in the laboratory. We carry out individual-based longitudinal studies using zebra finches, examining the effect of factors such as environmental stresses and early life nutrition.
I collaborate with other ecologists involved in long term individual-based studies in the field. This includes a long term study of the red-billed Chough on the inner Hebridean island of Islay, from both fundamental and conservation related perspectives (with colleagues from the Scottish Chough Study Group and the University of Aberdeen), and the European Shag (with colleagues from the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Edinburgh). These collaborations enable us to both tease apart causal factors and to examine the relevance to wild populations. I have a long term interest in seabird population dynamics, and have PhD students working in this area jointly with the RSPB and with colleges at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Our work is currently funded mainly by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award which I hold to investigate the effect of environmental circumstances on telomere dynamics, using the zebra finch, and by grants from UK research funders including: BBSRC (with Melissa Bateson and Daniel Nettle, Newcastle University examining the effect of early life diversity on phenotypic development in starlings), NERC (with Neil Metcalfe, Glasgow University, examining growth, telomere dynamics and longevity in sticklebacks), and the Leverhulme Trust (with Francis Daunt, CEH, examining the effect of environmental stress on telomere dynamics and longevity in the European Shag), and the AXA Foundation (with Jose Noguera & Neil Metcalfe, examining the effect of early diet on subsequent life history).
We are also working on stress and telomere dynamics in meerkats and Damaraland molerats (part of an ERC grant to Tim Clutton-Brock, Cambridge University). My group is also funded through studentships for PhD students and fellowships for postdoctoral researchers.
With respect to our work on telomere dynamics, I am particularly interested in forging more links with researchers in other disciplinary areas. To this end, I have recently obtained a Leverhulme International Network Grant (with Dr Dan Nussey, University of Edinburgh, Dr Mark Haussmann, Bucknell University, Prof Abraham Aviv, New Jersey Medical School and Professor Woody Wright, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre). This will enable us to organise a series of multidisciplinary workshops for telomere researchers over the next three years.